The Meaning of Apologetics
“Apologetics” is derived from the Greek root word apologia. In ancient Greece it referred to a formal defense of a belief, an explanation or argument for one’s philosophy or religion. The word occurs several times in the New Testament, including sections of the Gospels, seeking to persuade unbelievers of the truth claims of the Church, especially the unique nature of the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Standing before a tribunal in Jerusalem, the imprisoned Paul states, “Brethren and fathers, hear my defense [apologia] which I now offer to you” (Acts 22:1). In his epistle to the Philippians the Apostle to the Gentiles states that one of his tasks was to make a “defense of the Gospel.” Perhaps the best-known appearance of the word in the Bible is in Peter’s first epistle: “Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:15).
Catholic apologetics is the defense and explanation of the teachings, beliefs, and practices of the Catholic Church. Its goal is to remove objections, shed light on difficult or misunderstood matters, and ultimately help win minds and souls for Jesus Christ. Apologetics is the activity of helping people answer the question: “Why should I be Catholic?” It does so by engaging the mind to reach the heart.
Unfortunately, apologetics has a negative connotation for some Christians, including more than a few Catholics. For these people, Avery Cardinal Dulles notes in A History of Apologetics, “the apologist is regarded as an aggressive, opportunistic person who tries, by fair means or by foul, to argue people into joining the Church.” As Cardinal Dulles notes, there have undoubtedly been some bad apologists for the Catholic Faith. Apologists can be unduly argumentative, contentious, mean-spirited, triumphalistic, and arrogant. They can offend unbelievers just as easily as they defend Christian beliefs.
The Dos and Don’ts of Apologetics
However, apologetics should not be dismissed because of misuse or misunderstandings. The value and place of apologetics is best judged by looking to the finest defenders of Catholicism: Paul and Peter, Justin Martyr, Eusebius, Augustine, Aquinas, de Sales, Pascal, Newman, Chesterton, and even Pope John Paul II. These men dealt with pagans, Jews, Muslims, Protestants, agnostics, and atheists, adapting their methods and styles according to their audience while never deviating from the truth.
Most importantly, they are saints first, apologists second. They are men of holiness and prayer. A consistent and vital life of prayer is imperative for the apologist, especially since he is often under attack, verbally, spiritually, and, on occasion, physically. Prayer leads to a deeper knowledge of God and truth. “The closer the apologists grows to God in prayer,” writes apologist (and president of Ignatius Press) Mark Brumley in How Not To Share Your Faith, “the more intense his hatred of error and his desire that all men know the truth; the more intense his desire to use apologetics to help bring people to the truth.”
Knowledge of the Faith is necessary, of course, since the Church’s teaching about Jesus Christ, or the Eucharist, or the communion of saints cannot be defended without knowing something of substance about them. There is much to comprehend about the Catholic Church and her teachings, but the most basic study materials should include the Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, augmented by solid works of biblical and theological scholarship. The good news is that publishers such as Ignatius Press, Sophia Institute Press, Our Sunday Visitor and others have been publishing quality works of popular and scholarly apologetics for several decades. Classic texts by John Cardinal Newman, G.K. Chesterton, Ronald Knox, Frank Sheed, and other leading apologists of the nineteenth- and twentieth-century are in print and readily available. Contemporary authors Thomas Howard, Karl Keating, Peter Kreeft, Patrick Madrid, Mark Shea, Rev. Peter Stravinskas, and many others have produced an impressive array of books addressing modern challenges to the Catholic Faith, including fundamentalist Protestantism, secularism, feminism, and relativism.
All Catholics should have some basic knowledge of apologetics since they will all undoubtedly encounter questions and challenges about what they believe. When challenged to explain why and what they believe, Catholics should keep in mind what apologetics can and cannot do.
(Information in this introductory section is reprinted from the Ignatius Insight website)
The remainder of this special webpage on Catholic Apologetics contains common questions, misconceptions and challenges to the Catholic faith and the proper “apologetic” responses thereto. The responses are from various Catholic/Christian resources.
Where possible, the source and/or author of specific answers related to a particular question will be identified at the end of each response.
We will continue to add more content to this Apologetics webpage so check back frequently to find answers you can use for those “tough” questions you receive about your faith.
Q u e s t i o n
- Is Hell real?
- Does God exist?
- How to respond to the New Atheism?
- Did Jesus have brothers and sisters?
- Are there different levels in heaven?
- Why does God allow suffering?
- Why do Catholics confess their sins to a priest?
- Why do Catholics worship Mary?
- What is the Biblical support for the Holy Trinity?
- Do Catholics believe in the Rapture?
- Why do Catholics pray to statues?
- What are the different kinds of grace?
- Where in the Bible does it say that marriage is between a man and a woman?
- Aren’t the crusades an example of the brutality of the Catholic religion?
I n d e x
- How do you explain the Marian Dogmas to a Protestant?
- Where does Catholic Church authority and papal infallibility come from?
- Why do Catholics believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist?
- Why does God order destruction of entire city populations in the Old Testament?
- Why do Catholics believe in Purgatory?
- Is it important for Catholics to read the Bible?
- Do Catholics need to attend Mass on Sundays?
- Why do we need to be baptized?
- Why does the Catholic Church baptize infants?
- Why did the Catholic Church add books to the Bible?
Q. How can a loving God send anyone to hell? I was always told that God loves us unconditionally, but if that’s true, then why does hell exist? Doesn’t that prove that God’s love is conditional? Couldn’t God, who created the magnificent universe, come up with a better alternative than hell? Why would God create a place that makes Jesus’ death on the cross ineffective for all who go to hell? Christianity teaches us to love our neighbor. How can I love my neighbor and forget the souls that are burning in hell? We can’t pray for them. Hell is eternal. If I end up in heaven, God willing, how can I enjoy heaven knowing that trillions of souls are burning for all eternity? Bottom line is, God’s love and the punishment of hell are in direct opposition. Some people have told me that hell is God’s justice. When I read Jesus’ words on hell, it doesn’t display justice to me. It displays hate. Hell is something that I despise. It is a creation of God that I believe should not exist for any of his children, no matter how bad they are. We must never forget that nothing happens that is not according to God’s will and that includes the people that are going to hell. I refuse to believe that my heart is kinder than my doctrine … kinder than my Lord and God. I hope I haven’t offended you with my questions. -C.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A. I appreciate this chance to try to answer some of your heartfelt questions. First off, though, I need to emphasize that in no way should Jesus’ words on hell ever be interpreted as displaying hatred. Jesus is “the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6), and whatever he revealed, he did so for the sake of our salvation. And he did this for love for us.
The heart of your question, I think, is your sense that “God’s love and the punishment of hell are in direct opposition.” They are not. Rather, they are two sides of the same coin.
To understand this, we need to remember two realities: first, who God is, and second, what hell is.
Scripture tells us that “God is love” (1 John 4:8). God is pure love, infinite perfection. Words couldn’t begin to describe his greatness. So loving is he, that he created us in order to share his love with us. Now, if God is good, so loving, so perfect, what possible excuse could a creature have for disobeying him?
God didn’t create us as robots. He gave us free will so that we could love him freely. His perfect will is that we obey him — he wants the best for us. But his permissive will extends to us a freedom that we can misuse.
Our parents, Adam and Eve, disobeyed his will, damaging themselves and the human nature that would be passed down to their descendents (such as us). This damaged nature is one way of thinking of original sin, which we inherit. Among the effects of original sin, even after baptism, is that we have a tendency to sin, also known as concupiscence. “Concupiscence stems from the disobedience of the first sin. It unsettles man’s moral faculties and, without being in itself an offense, inclines man to commit sins” (Catechism, No. 2515).
Now, some sins are grave, or mortal. Mortal sin involves a radical rejection of God’s love (for more, see the Catechism section that begins with No. 1845). A person who dies in the state of mortal sin faces the consequences of that radical break with God. This is what hell is about.
Hell was not an invention of God. Rather, according to Pope John Paul II in a 1999 audience, “It is not a punishment imposed externally by God but a development of premises already set by people in this life.”
Hell, in other words, proceeds from the very nature of mortal sin. God doesn’t send people to hell; it is something they choose for themselves.
An analogy might help. Imagine you are on a ship that is searching for survivors from a sunken ocean liner. You see a passenger struggling in the waves behind you. You throw a lifeline to him, but he refuses to grab it. You beg him to take hold of the lifeline, but he ignores your plea. Eventually he sinks below the waves and drowns. Does his drowning indicate that you were indifferent? When you begged him to grab the lifeline, were you displaying hate? Was his drowning your fault?
The answer to all these questions is: no. The person in the water, for whatever reason, refused your help. His drowning was the consequence.
It is similar to God’s love. He throws lifelines constantly to people who have fallen into serious sin. He had even sent his Son to teach them to take hold of the lifeline and to warn them what they risk if they don’t. To help people gain salvation, Jesus was even willing to die on a cross. Yet, he won’t force salvation on anyone. He respects their free will too much.
I want to reiterate: God never stops reaching out to us as long as we are here on earth. The Catechism makes this clear: “Although man can forget God or reject him, He never ceases to call every man to seek him, so as to find life and happiness” (No. 30). When explaining how someone might end up in hell, the Catechism makes this point again, from a different angle: “God predestines no one to go to hell; for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end” (No. 1037). God loves us too much to force any of us to go to heaven. He respects our freedom, and it is possible for us to use that freedom to reject his friendship forever.
To sum up: God doesn’t send anyone to hell. People choose it for themselves. Hell wasn’t part of God’s original creation. Rather, it is the result of the choices made by people (and angels) who reject God’s love.
If you make it to heaven, and I hope you do, your first question, there in the presence of God, might be, “How could anyone ever reject such perfect Love?” Fortunately, the mistake of others won’t faze your own happiness. For being in heaven by definition means being as happy as you can be. (By the way, keep praying for the deceased; you never know who still needs your help.)
You say that you refuse to believe that your heart is kinder than Our Lord’s. I agree. No one can top Our Lord in kindness and love. Let’s pray that everyone embraces that truth. God bless.
This information is reprinted from the Regnum Christi Spirituality Center website.
Q. What reasons can we give atheists for the existence of God?
A. One popular source used by Christians in a discussion of the existence of God is St. Thomas Aquinas’ “Five Ways”, taken from Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae. St. Thomas Aquinas was a brilliant Catholic scholar and theologian from the 13th century. Pope Pius V, who declared him a Doctor of the Church, described Aquinas as “the most brilliant light of the Church.”
You can find Aquinas’ Five Ways here.
A very good modern article suggesting why it is reasonable to believe in God’s existence is the following one by William Lane Craig, published December 13, 2013 by FoxNews.com. This includes some of the same basic philosophical arguments of St. Thomas Aquinas, but presented in a modern context.
Following this is another good article by Catholic apologist Trent Horn – How to Respond to the “New Atheism”
A Christmas gift for atheists — five reasons why God exists
By William Lane Craig Published December 13, 2013 FoxNews.com
For atheists, Christmas is a religious sham. For if God does not exist, then obviously Jesus’ birth cannot represent the incarnation of God in human history, which Christians celebrate at this time of year.
However, most atheists, in my experience, have no good reasons for their disbelief. Rather they’ve learned to simply repeat the slogan, “There’s no good evidence for God’s existence!”
In the case of a Christian who has no good reasons for what he believes, this slogan serves as an effective conversation-stopper. But if we have good reasons for our beliefs, then this slogan serves rather as a conversation-starter.
The atheist who merely repeats this slogan after having been presented with arguments for God’s existence makes an empty assertion.
So what reasons might be given in defense of Christian theism? In my publications and oral debates with some of the world’s most notable atheists, I’ve defended the following five reasons why God exists:
1. God provides the best explanation of the origin of the universe.
Given the scientific evidence we have about our universe and its origins, and bolstered by arguments presented by philosophers for centuries, it is highly probable that the universe had an absolute beginning. Since the universe, like everything else, could not have merely popped into being without a cause, there must exist a transcendent reality beyond time and space that brought the universe into existence. This entity must therefore be enormously powerful. Only a transcendent, unembodied mind suitably fits that description.
2. God provides the best explanation for the fine-tuning of the universe.
Contemporary physics has established that the universe is fine-tuned for the existence of intelligent, interactive life. That is to say, in order for intelligent, interactive life to exist, the fundamental constants and quantities of nature must fall into an incomprehensibly narrow life-permitting range. There are three competing explanations of this remarkable fine-tuning: physical necessity, chance, or design. The first two are highly implausible, given the independence of the fundamental constants and quantities from nature’s laws and the desperate maneuvers needed to save the hypothesis of chance. That leaves design as the best explanation.
3. God provides the best explanation of objective moral values and duties.
Even atheists recognize that some things, for example, the Holocaust, are objectively evil. But if atheism is true, what basis is there for the objectivity of the moral values we affirm? Evolution? Social conditioning? These factors may at best produce in us the subjective feeling that there are objective moral values and duties, but they do nothing to provide a basis for them. If human evolution had taken a different path, a very different set of moral feelings might have evolved. By contrast, God Himself serves as the paradigm of goodness, and His commandments constitute our moral duties. Thus, theism provides a better explanation of objective moral values and duties.
4. God provides the best explanation of the historical facts concerning Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.
Historians have reached something of consensus that the historical Jesus thought that in himself God’s Kingdom had broken into human history, and he carried out a ministry of miracle-working and exorcisms as evidence of that fact. Moreover, most historical scholars agree that after his crucifixion Jesus’ tomb was discovered empty by a group of female disciples, that various individuals and groups saw appearances of Jesus alive after his death, and that the original disciples suddenly and sincerely came to believe in Jesus’ resurrection despite their every predisposition to the contrary. I can think of no better explanation of these facts than the one the original disciples gave: God raised Jesus from the dead.
5. God can be personally known and experienced.
The proof of the pudding is in the tasting. Down through history Christians have found through Jesus a personal acquaintance with God that has transformed their lives.
The good thing is that atheists tend to be very passionate people and want to believe in something. If they would only put aside the slogans for a moment and reexamine their worldview in light of the best philosophical, scientific, and historical evidence we have today, then they, too, would find Christmas worth celebrating!
William Lane Craig is a philosopher, author, and founder of ReasonableFaith.org, a web-based ministry whose purpose is to provide an intelligent and articulate perspective about the existence of God in the public arena.
How to Respond to the “New Atheism”
Ridicule of religion is the ethos of many modern unbelievers
By: Trent Horn
In C. S. Lewis’s novel That Hideous Strength there is a scene where the non-religious protagonist, Mark, is instructed as “part of an exercise” to trample an image of a large crucifix. Because Mark is not a Christian, he is puzzled as to why he should bother with this exercise and not just leave this silly superstition alone. The professor who is leading the exercise tells Mark, “Of course it is a superstition: but it is that particular superstition which has pressed upon our society for many centuries. . . . An explicit action in the reverse direction is therefore a necessary step towards complete objectivity” (ch. 15). In other words, if religion is to be purged from society it cannot simply be ignored; it has to be ridiculed.
Lewis’s novel, published in 1945, was set in the future. Nearly seventy years later, that future is our present, and the author’s descriptions of religious ridicule pale in comparison to the current mockeries of Christianity found on the Internet. Yet while the vileness of the ridicule has increased, the attitude embodied by the professor remains the same. The best way to see how Lewis’s fiction has become prophecy is to contrast the “Old Atheism” with what some have called the “New Atheism.”
The “Old Atheism”
Throughout most of the twentieth century, public profession of atheism was synonymous with communism or the endorsement of totalitarianism. In a 1961 episode of The Twilight Zone titled “The Obsolete Man,” a librarian in a police state is executed for the crime of believing in God. Ultimately the librarian (portrayed wonderfully by the late Burgess Meredith) turns the tables on his executioner, but the image of a believer being crushed under the jackboot of totalitarian atheism was, at the time, not mere fiction. In his 1967 memoir, Tortured for Christ, Richard Wurmbrand describes how Soviet guards would tell prisoners, “I thank God in whom I don’t believe. Now I may indulge the evil in my heart” (p. 34).
These horror stories may have something to do with atheism’s low approval ratings. Gallup compared two polls conducted in 1958 and 2012 about people’s unwillingness to elect certain minorities to the U.S. presidency. In 1958, 38 percent were willing to elect an African-American and 18 percent were willing to elect an atheist. In 2012, while 96 percent were willing to elect an African-American, only 54 percent were willing to elect an atheist (Jeffrey Jones, “Atheists, Muslims See Most Bias as Presidential Candidates,” Gallup Polling, June 21, 2012).
Faced with such dismal levels of public approval, atheists felt the need to show believers that they were good people and not amoral communists. Beginning in the 1970s, the philosopher Paul Kurtz promoted what he called “secular humanism,” which focused on promoting human well-being without religion rather than converting people to atheism. Secular humanists even praised religion for its beneficial effects on society.
The Second Humanist Manifesto affirmed, “In the best sense, religion may inspire dedication to the highest ethical ideals.” The Manifesto went on to point out that while religion can hinder society, so can many nonreligious ideologies that are not based on humanism (Paul Kurtz and Edwin H. Wilson, “Humanist Manifesto II,” 1973). But this attitude of congenial disagreement changed for many people on September 11, 2001.
The “New Atheism”
I remember getting ready for school on that fateful day when my dad ran into my bedroom and turned on the television. Because I went to high school in Arizona, the attacks were in progress by the time I woke up. I stared in disbelief as the news replayed over and over again the surreal sight of the World Trade Center collapsing into a pile of dust. How could 19 human beings (the 9/11 hijackers) do something so terrible? The answer from the New Atheists was simple: Religion alone has the power to cause people to do such terrible things.
In 2004 American atheist Sam Harris, after reflecting on the September 11 terrorist attacks, published The End of Faith. In the book, Harris argued that religion is a form of mental illness and not part of a rational worldview. He writes, “[I]t is difficult to imagine a set of beliefs more suggestive of mental illness than those that lie at the heart of many of our religious traditions.” (p. 70). In 2006 British biologist Richard Dawkins went so far as to claim that religious education for children is child abuse: “Even without physical abduction, isn’t it always a form of child abuse to label a child a possessor of beliefs that they are too young to have thought about?” (The God Delusion, p. 354). These books were followed by others, such as Christopher Hitchens’ God Is Not Great and philosopher Daniel Dennett’s Breaking the Spell: Religion as Natural Phenomenon. Before Hitchens died in 2011, these authors were known as the “four horsemen” of the “New Atheism.”
What made these atheists “new” weren’t their arguments against religion but their attitude that religion should be reviled. At the 2012 “Reason Rally,” about 10,000 atheists gathered on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., where Dawkins instructed them regarding Christians: “Mock them, ridicule them in public. . . . Don’t fall for the convention that we’re all too polite to talk about religion” (Lillian Kwon, “Atheists Rally for Reason; Urged to Mock the Religious,” The Christian Post, March 24, 2012).
To be fair, there are atheists who do not see religion as a bad thing and don’t support ridicule as a way to combat it. Atheistic philosopher Walter Sinnott-Armstrong writes, “Like law, science, art, and guns, religion is a powerful tool that can be used for great good as well as for great evil. I have no desire to obstruct the benefits of religion” (William Lane Craig and Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, God? A Debate Between a Christian and an Atheist, 82).But other atheists think this “accommodation” is dangerous. Harris writes, “I hope to show that the very ideal of religious tolerance—born of the notion that every human being should be free to believe whatever he wants about God—is one of the principal forces driving us toward the abyss” (The End of Faith, 15).
Most atheists do not want the government to outlaw religious belief, but they do want government to no longer be associated with it. One common tactic is to file lawsuits to ban the display of nativity scenes or crosses on public land. When that strategy fails, some atheists opt for a “heckler’s veto.” In a recent case, the city of Santa Monica had hosted a life-size nativity display in Palisades Park since 1953, which earned it the nickname “City of the Christmas Story.” In 2011, atheist Damon Vix encouraged other atheists to apply for booths in the park so that of the twenty-one available spaces nearly all were reserved for atheist displays dedicated to parodies of religion. These included displays that paid homage to the “Flying Spaghetti Monster” (the deity of the parody religion Pastafarianism) and compared Jesus to Santa Claus and the ancient Greek god Poseidon. The latter display included the sign “37 million Americans know MYTHS when they see one. What myths do you see?”
In response to the controversy, the city of Santa Monica banned all private displays from Palisades Park and the ban has been upheld in Federal Court. Vix later said, “If I had another goal it would be to remove the ‘under God’ phrase from the Pledge of Allegiance—but that’s a little too big for me to take on for right now” (Doug Stanglin, “U.S. judge blocks Nativity displays in Santa Monica” USA Today, Nov. 19, 2012).
Another atheist group that uses the strategy of public ridicule is the American Atheists. They are a national group that sponsors billboards with messages such as “Christianity: Sadistic God; Useless Savior.” When asked about the controversy about the billboards, the group’s president, David Silverman, said, “I respect people; I respect humans. I do not respect religion. And I do not respect the idea that religion deserves respect” (Dan Merica, “Atheist organizer takes ‘movement’ to nation’s capital,” CNN Belief Blog, March 23, 2012).
The Internet: The church of atheism
One popular way atheists ridicule religion is through the use of Internet memes, or ideas that spread through a population like viruses. These are usually ironic oversimplifications of religious doctrines that are designed to make the doctrines look silly. One popular meme depicts Jesus with rotting flesh and glowing red eyes along with the caption, “Christianity: the belief that a cosmic Jewish zombie who was his own father can make you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh and telepathically accept him as your master . . . yeah, makes perfect sense.”
Besides allowing memes spread at an exponential rate, the Internet has provided a community for atheists to interact with one another. Christians have always had community at their churches, but prior to the invention of the Internet atheists could only hope to run into each other in the Nietzsche section of the local used book store. But now atheists’ presence on the Internet dwarfs that of their religious counterparts.
The popular forum website Reddit, which describes itself as the “front page” of the Internet, has various “subreddits” that are devoted to different communities. At the time of this writing, the Catholic “subreddit” has about 5,000 subscribers, the Christian subreddit has about 50,000 subscribers, but the atheism subredditt has more than 1.4 million subscribers. Keep in mind that Catholics make up about 25 percent of the population, non-Catholic Christians make up about 50 percent of the population, but atheists make up only three percent of the population. While some net-savvy Catholics have harnessed the evangelistic power of memes and other internet tools such as blogging, they still have a lot of catching up to do. To quote Mark Twain, “A lie can get halfway around the world before the truth has time to put its shoes on.”
Being gentle and blameless
How should Catholics respond to atheist ridicule? First, because critics of the Church sometimes use ridicule does not mean Catholics have a license to do the same. 1 Peter 3:15-16 says, “[B]ut in your hearts reverence Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence;
and keep your conscience clear so that, when you are abused, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. ”
On a recent Catholic Answers Live radio show an atheist caller claimed that the reason I was Catholic was because my mother taught it to me and I blindly accepted what she told me. I corrected the caller gently and told him that my mother is not Catholic and I was in fact a convert to the Catholic Church. He apologized and we continued our discussion over whether or not atheism is true. This is a good example of using charity so that others may “themselves be put to shame” when they defame us.
Watch out for smelly fish
Second, Catholics should be ready to give a well-reasoned answer to the arguments put forward by atheists. Several books and media resources are available to help Catholics answer atheist arguments with objective tools like science and philosophy. My own book on the subject, Answering Atheism, is due out this year. Unfortunately, when some atheists are confronted with thoughtful arguments for the existence of God they will take the low road in discourse and attack our faith instead of attacking the arguments used to defend it.
For example, if you present scientific evidence for God (such as the universe’s beginning in time) an atheist might say, “But what about all the scientists, like Galileo, that the Church has persecuted?” If you present objective moral truths as evidence of an objective moral law-giver an atheist might say, “But what about the Crusades, or the sex-abuse scandals, or the fact that the Bible condones slavery and genocide!”
As you can see, these arguments have nothing to do with the existence of God. Instead, they are designed to lead you away from that topic and keep the debate focused on an irrelevant detail. In logic this type of gambit is a fallacy called a “red herring.” The name comes from the practice of dragging a smelly fish called a herring across a game trail. This was done so that the hunting dogs could practice not being distracted by other scents and instead stay focused on the object of the hunt. You should take a lesson from the dogs and stay focused when people present these red herring arguments. Simply respond, “That may be true, but which premise of my argument for the existence of God do these facts refute? How would these facts show there isn’t a God?”
But along with strong, well-focused arguments, 1 Peter 3:15-16 requires that our defense of the faith must be so charitable that we are beyond reproach if atheists criticize us. The Catechism of the Catholic Church points out that atheists may be less morally responsible for their atheism because they were poorly evangelized by believers. Quoting Gaudium et Spes, the Catechism states:
The imputability of [atheism] can be significantly diminished in virtue of the intentions and the circumstances. “Believers can have more than a little to do with the rise of atheism. To the extent that they are careless about their instruction in the faith, or present its teaching falsely, or even fail in their religious, moral, or social life, they must be said to conceal rather than to reveal the true nature of God and of religion” (CCC 2125).
What not to do
A recent case where Christians concealed rather than revealed God’s love can be found in the recent controversy surrounding high school student Jessica Ahlquist. Ahlquist, who was a student at Cranston West High School in Rhode Island, spoke publicly in favor of removing a 47-year-old banner from the school auditorium that was emblazoned with religious phrases like “Our Heavenly Father” and “Amen.” In 2011 the American Civil Liberty Union, with Ahlquist as plaintiff, sued to have the banner removed. Ultimately the district court ruled in favor of Ahlquist.
Members of the community who supported keeping the banner, many of whom described themselves as Protestant Christians or Catholics, expressed extreme hostility toward Ahlquist, who described herself as an atheist. Three local flower shops refused to deliver flowers that were purchased for her. Police were dispatched to escort Ahlquist between classes because she had received death threats. State Rep. PeterPalumbo called Ahlquist an “evil little thing” in a local radio interview (Abby Goodnough, “Student Faces Town’s Wrath in Protest Against a Prayer,” The New York Times, Jan. 26, 2012).
While it is acceptable to have a civil debate about the constitutionality of prayer in public schools, the bullying of a teenage girl by adult Christians is a sheer embarrassment for the Body of Christ. It should serve as a lesson to follow the words of Jesus when he says, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt. 5:44-45).
The real enemy
Finally, we should have confidence that the Church will survive attacks from atheists, just as it has survived similar attacks throughout history. During the French Revolution the altar at the historic Notre Dame cathedral was torn down and replaced with an altar dedicated to Liberty. The inscription “To Philosophy” was carved over the massive cathedral doors. But in the next century France would give rise to saints like Thérèse of Lisieux and John Vianney. After World War II, the Communist party gained control of Poland, seized Church property, and imprisoned thousands of priests. But after the Iron Curtain fell the Church began to flourish and now nearly 90 percent of Poland is Catholic.
Jesus said to Peter that the powers of death would not prevail against the Church (Matt. 16:18), and Paul said that no force, natural or supernatural, could ever separate us from the love of God (Rom. 8:38-39). Instead of obsessively worrying about atheist mockery that makes the Church look ridiculous, we should take steps to not become ignorant or offensive Christians who accomplish the same thing. We would do well to remember the immortal words of one Pogo Possum, who said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Fortunately, if we kill this “enemy,” what we actually kill is what Paul called “the old self” (Col. 3:9), and in dying to this self we will rise with new life in Christ and be able to face any attacks, verbal, physical or spiritual, our critics lob at us.
This information reprinted from an article by Trent Horn on the Catholic Answers website.
Q. The Bible says Jesus had brothers and sisters. If Mary is a perpetual virgin, how is that possible?
A. (Mark 6:3) says, “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joseph, and Judas and Simon, and are not His sisters here with us?” We need to realize a few things here about these “brothers and sisters.” First, there was no word for cousin, or for nephew or niece, or for aunt or uncle in ancient Hebrew or Aramaic – the words that the Jews used in all those instances were “brother” or “sister.”
An example of this can be seen in (Gen 14:14), where Lot, who was Abraham’s nephew, is called his brother in some early translations of the Bible. Another point to consider: If Jesus had had any brothers, if Mary had had any other sons, it’s hard to believe that the last thing Jesus did on earth was to grievously offend his surviving brothers? What I mean by that is in (John 19:26-27), right before Jesus dies, it says that Jesus entrusted the care of His mother to the beloved disciple, John. If Mary had had any other sons, it would have been a bit of a slap in the face to them that the Apostle John was entrusted with the care of their mother.
Also, we see from (Matthew 27:55-56) that the James and Joseph mentioned in Mark 6 as the “brothers” of Jesus are actually the sons of another Mary. And, one other passage to consider is (Acts 1:14-15): “[The Apostles] with one accord devoted themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus and with His brothers…the company of persons was in all about a hundred and twenty.”
A company of 120 persons composed of the Apostles, Mary, the women, and the “brothers” of Jesus. There were 11 Apostles at the time. Jesus’ mother makes 12. The women were probably the same three women mentioned in Matthew 27, but let’s say it was maybe a dozen or two, just for argument’s sake. So that puts us up to 30 or 40 or so. So that leaves the number of Jesus’ brothers at about 80 or 90! It is hard to argue that Mary had 80 or 90 children.
So Scripture does not contradict the teaching of the Catholic Church about the “brothers” of Jesus, when Scripture is properly interpreted in context.
Q. Are there different levels in heaven?
A. The term “levels” of heaven and hell to describe the degrees of punishment or reward reflects the literary imagery of Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy more than the language of the Church. “Degrees” of perfection or punishment is the proper term. The degree of perfection of the beatific vision granted to the just is proportioned to each one’s merits.
The . . . Council of Florence (1439) declared the souls of the perfectly just clearly behold the Triune and One God as he is, but corresponding to the difference of their merits, the one more perfectly than the other. The Council of Trent defined that the justified person merits an increase of the heavenly glory by good works. (Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, 479)
The Union Councils of Lyons and of Florence declared that the souls of the damned are punished with unequal punishments . . . This is probably intended to assert not merely a specific difference in the punishment of original sin and of personal sins, but also a difference in the degree of punishment for personal sins [cf. Matt. 11:22; Luke 20:47]. . . . St. Augustine teaches “In their wretchedness the lot of some of the damned will be more tolerable than that of others. Justice demands that the punishment be commensurate with the guilt.” (Ott, Fundamentals, 482)
This information is from an article by Peggy Frye and reprinted from the Catholic Answers website.
Q. Why does God allow evil and suffering to exist in the world?
A. Probably one of the greatest challenges faced by Christianity and Christians is the reality of evil and suffering. At times even great thinkers are baffled by the seeming contradiction between the existence of a loving God and the fact of evil.
Upon the death of his wife, C.S. Lewis wrote, “Meanwhile, where is God? This is one of the most disquieting symptoms … But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is in vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside.”
Fortunately, Lewis came to grips with his grief and in the end realized that God not only exists, but that He is indeed all loving despite our sufferings.
Still, for Christians and non-Christians evil and suffering are often at the forefront of our minds, particularly when we ourselves are suffering. How could a good God allow so much evil? Why doesn’t He do something about it? Couldn’t God have created a world without evil?
These are important questions and while we cannot solve them all neatly in one short article, we can address evil and suffering and begin to offer some possible solutions to the seeming dilemma.
The Problem of Evil
Solving the seeming contradiction between a loving God and the reality of evil is usually referred to as a theodicy. A theodicy attempts to solve the apparent tensions in what is often termed the problem of evil. But the problem of evil is really a series of problems. Like many large problems, sometimes it is helpful to break them down into their components. Evil, you see, actually extends not only to the moral world, but also to the natural world. When human beings do bad things to one another, this is moral evil. But so-called natural disasters are often considered evil as well because of all the suffering they cause. Earthquakes, tidal waves, floods, and so forth, are all examples of what might be termed natural evil.
What is Evil?
One helpful approach to solving the problem of evil has to do with defining evil. Christian thinker Augustine defined evil not as a thing in and of itself, but as a parasite on good. Something that is lacking is not a thing in itself. For instance, if you have a hole in your jacket, the hole is not something, but rather is something that is lacking. Similarly, Augustine considered evil something that is missing. Indeed, it requires good to exist because it is a parasite. In this sense, Augustine defined evil as a privation – a lack of something – rather than a thing or substance.
This solves some important criticisms. If evil is not an actual thing, then God cannot be the author of evil. God is the author of good, but we make moral choices that result in evil.
Does Evil Argue Against God?
Atheists, skeptics and other critics of Christianity often argue against God on the basis of the reality of evil and suffering. “See,” they say, “since evil and suffering exist, God must not exist.” Sometimes they will argue that God may exist, but perhaps He is a weak god, an incompetent one or even an evil one!
But do evil and suffering really mean that God does not exist? Some Christians have responded by turning the skeptic’s argument on its head. They do this by asking on what basis is something deemed evil? If there is some moral standard the critic is basing their position on, then the problem of evil becomes an argument for not against the reality of God. After all, in order to call something good or evil, there must be an underlying standard of right and wrong. Theists argue that this standard is rooted in God and His nature. We know His moral law exists so we recognize the reality of evil and suffering. But unless there is a moral standard, we have no real basis for calling anything good or evil.
Moral Evil and Natural Evil
As we noted earlier, there’s a difference between moral and natural evil. Moral evil is explained by the fact that human beings commit evil against one another. People lie, cheat, steal, hurt, and more. This does not argue against Christianity, but instead proves the point that there is something very wrong with human nature as it now is.
But what about natural evil? Couldn’t there be less suffering? Why doesn’t God stop things like earthquakes and tsunamis? Again, this ties into the broad Christian explanation of the human predicament. Paradise has been lost due to human moral shortcomings. As a result, we live in a fallen world, east of Eden. As a result, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Romans 8:22).
The good news is that although this is not the best world, it is the best way to the best possible world. Some day God will ultimately and finally overcome evil entirely.
Evil: Intellectual and Emotional
Before continuing, it will be helpful at this point to pause and explain another important point. Evil and suffering can refer to not only physical pain, but emotional pain, too. Consequently, there are differences in approaching the problem of evil depending on whether one is doing it intellectually, in a detached sort of way as we are doing in this article, versus ministering to those in need of compassion. In this sense, there is an intellectual way to address evil and also an emotional way to address it. Both are important and both require our attention, but there is a difference.
A World Without Evil?
But couldn’t God have created a world without evil? Let’s take a look at a few of the options. If God had not created anything, there would be no evil. But is nothing better than something? Hardly. This would be a world without morality. What if God created a world where people could not choose? God could force everyone to stop before they were able to carry out evil behavior. But is such a world where freedom does not exist good?
God knows best and, as such, He knows that our world is the best way to the best possible world. Yes, there will be evil and suffering along the way. We can rejoice with the apostle Paul when he wrote, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).
Can God Relate to Our Pain?
Considering all the evil in the world, does God really care about us? Not only does He care, but He cares enough to have sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to suffer and die for us. Because of God’s great love and sacrifice, we now have a way to be reconciled with Him through Christ. This does not mean that we will no longer suffer in this world, but it does mean that we will spend eternity with God. There will come a day when God “will wipe every tear from” our eyes and, “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things” will pass away (Revelation 21:4).
This information reprinted from the Focus on the Family website
Q. Why do Catholics confess their sins to a priest, rather than going directly to God?
A. Well, the quick answer is because that’s the way God wants us to do it. In James 5:16, God, through Sacred Scripture, commands us to “confess our sins to one another.” Notice, Scripture does not say confess your sins straight to God and only to God…it says confess your sins to one another.
In Matthew, chapter 9, verse 6, Jesus tells us that He was given authority on earth to forgive sins. And then Scripture proceeds to tell us, in verse 8, that this authority was given to “men”…plural.
In John 20, verses 21-23, what is the 1st thing Jesus says to the gathered disciples on the night of His resurrection? “Jesus said to them, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.'” How did the Father send Jesus? Well, we just saw in Mt 9 that the Father sent Jesus with the authority on earth to forgive sins. Now, Jesus sends out His disciples as the Father has sent Him…so, what authority must Jesus be sending His disciples out with? The authority on earth to forgive sins. And, just in case they didn’t get it, verses 22-23 say this, “And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.'”
Why would Jesus give the Apostles the power to forgive or to retain sins if He wasn’t expecting folks to confess their sins to them? And how could they forgive or retain sins if no one was confessing their sins to them?
The Bible tells us to confess our sins to one another. It also tells us that God gave men the authority on Earth to forgive sins. Jesus sends out His disciples with the authority on earth to forgive sins. When Catholics confess our sins to a priest, we are simply following the plan laid down by Jesus Christ. He forgives sins through the priest…it is God’s power, but He exercises that power through the ministry of the priest.
Q. Why do Catholics Worship Mary?
A. Catholics don’t worship Mary. They believe that worship is due to God alone. Catholics do, however, venerate Mary. In other words, we honor our Blessed Mother with great reverence and devotion because she is the Mother of God. Mary is the model of perfect love and obedience to Christ. God preserved Mary from sin, and she conceived our Lord by the power of the Holy Spirit, bringing Christ into our world. Catholics can’t help but honor the Blessed Virgin Mary, who is full of grace, the Mother of God and our Mother, for her “yes” to God that made the Incarnation possible. And without the Incarnation, we would not have salvation. Mary is the most beautiful model of total submission to the will of God. Catholics do not view Mary as equal to Christ, but rather venerate Mary because of her relationship to Christ. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains, “Mary’s role in the Church is inseparable from her union with Christ and flows directly from it” (CCC 964).
As Catholics, we pray that we can respond to God’s call to holiness for our lives in the way that Mary did. Mother Theresa prayed to emulate Mary’s devotion to Christ:
“Mary, Mother of Jesus, give me your heart so beautiful, so pure, so immaculate, so full of love and humility that I may be able to receive Jesus in the Bread of Life, love Him as You loved Him, and serve Him as You served Him….”
For much more information about Our Blessed Mother Mary see our “Meet Your Mother” page on our website.
Q. When was the concept of the Holy Trinity first identified by the Catholic Church and is there biblical support for it?
A. First Identified Use of the Word Trinity
The word trias (of which the Latin trinitas is a translation) is first found in Theophilus of Antioch about A.D. 180. He speaks of “the Trinity of God [the Father], His Word and His Wisdom”. In the next century the word “Trinity” is in general use. The first creed in which it appears is that of Origen’s pupil, Gregory Thaumaturgus. In his Ekthesis tes pisteos composed between 260 and 270 he writes:
“There is therefore nothing created, nothing subject to another in the Trinity: nor is there anything that has been added as though it once had not existed, but had entered afterwards: therefore the Father has never been without the Son, nor the Son without the Spirit: and this same Trinity is immutable and unalterable forever.”
A good explanation of the Holy Trinity by Frank Sheed, a modern theologian is this:
In its barest outline, the doctrine contains four truths: (1) In the one divine Nature, there are three Persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. (2) No one of the Persons is either of the others, each is wholly Himself. (3) The Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Ghost is God. (4) They are not three Gods but one God.
Sheed, F. J. (2011-06-26). Theology for Beginners (p. 34). Angelico Press
Scriptural Support for the Holy Trinity
In Scripture there is no single term by which the Three Divine Persons are denoted together. One of the earliest references to the concept of more than one person in God was Genesis 1:26— Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” (Notice the plural pronouns “us” and “our” which denote more than one person.)
There are additional numerous scriptural references to the concept of the Holy Trinity as three persons but one God. Following are some, but not all, of those references.
- “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!” (Deut. 6:4)
- “I am the LORD, and there is no other; Besides Me there is no God.” (Isa. 45:5)
- There is no God but one. (1Cor. 8:4)
- And after being baptized, Jesus went up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of
- God descending as a dove, and coming upon Him, and behold, a voice out of the heavens, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.” (Matt. 3:16-17)
- “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” (Matt. 28:19)
- Jesus said: “I and the Father are one.” (John 10:30)
- “He who has seen Me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9)
- “He who beholds Me beholds the One who sent Me.” (John 12:45)
- If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. (Rom. 8:9)
- “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for that which has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.” (Matt. 1:20)
- And the angel answered and said to her [Mary], “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadoyou; and for that reason the holy offspring shall be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35)
- [Jesus speaking to His disciples] “And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not behold Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you, and will be in you.” … “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him, and make Our abode with him.” (John 14:16-17, 23)
Q. Do Catholics believe in the Rapture?
A. The Rapture is the false belief that a period of time is close at hand in which Christians will be gathered together to secretly and silently vanish, meeting Christ “in the air’ (i.e. be “raptured”) before His Second Coming. Those who are unbelievers will be left behind to suffer violently in a time of Tribulation. Christ will then return, a third time, years later (some say after seven years, some say after a thousand) in order to slay the anti-Christ. These verses in Scripture are used to support the Rapture:
For the Lord himself, with a word of command, with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God, will come down from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first.
Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Thus we shall always be with the Lord.–1 Thess 4:16-17
For as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.
In (those) days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day that Noah entered the ark.
They did not know until the flood came and carried them all away. So will it be (also) at the coming of the Son of Man.
Two men will be out in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left.–Matt 24:37-40
as well as a multitude of verses in Revelation.
Prior to the 19th century, this question (do we believe in The Rapture?) would have puzzled Christians, for the idea of “The Rapture” was non-existent. Historically, you will not find any church father, theologian, pope, saint or ecumenical council mention The Rapture. It became a novelty in the 19th century.
(Note: this should be contrasted with the objection posed to Catholics that, like the Rapture, the Immaculate Conception was only proclaimed in 1854. These are two very different ideas: the Immaculate Conception was believed from the time of the Apostles–and mentioned by church fathers, theologians, saints, popes, etc throughout history, but only formally defined in 1854. The idea of the Rapture was virtually non-existent until the 19th century.)
That people are making “end time speculations” is not new. This, of course, has been going on for millenia. However, the concept that we will be caught up in the air or left behind is a new innovation. In the 1990’s the wildly popular (and very anti-Catholic) series of books called the “Left Behind” series re-vitalized this concept, selling over 10 million books. It received more legitimacy when actor and Christian evangelist Kirk Cameron became a convert to this belief and starred in a series of movies proclaiming that Christians will be Raptured.
Catholicism rejects this interpretation of Scripture. There will be no Rapture as understood by Evangelicals and Fundamentalists. “Though it does not use the term rapture, the Church does acknowledge that there will be an event where the elect are gathered to be with Christ. The point of contention is the timing of this event: It occurs at the Second Coming, not several years before it. This is indicated by Paul’s reference to it taking place when Christ descends from heaven: the Second Coming. Scripture does not envision the Second Coming accomplishing the Rapture, followed by a “Third Coming” inaugurating the eternal order or the Millennium.” source. In other words, the Church proclaims that Scripture tells us that Christians who are alive at the parousia (the end of the world) and who are living in the state of grace will witness the Second Coming and will live eternally with Jesus in His kingdom.
Incidentally, the Left Behind series posits that those who are “left behind” are the un-saved. However, if one looks at the verse in Matthew cited above we see that, as in the days of Noah, the ones who were “left behind” were the good guys, not the bad guys! That is, during the flood, Noah and his family (the good guys) were left behind, not raptured.
Finally, I’d like to point out this irony: Evangelical supporters of The Rapture object, in different discussions, to the Catholic Church’s teaching on Mary’s Assumption. I find this ironic, as is it not essentially a “Rapture” that is happening to Mary? Why do Evangelical Christians believe in The Rapture for every other Christian, except for Jesus’ mother? Just sayin’.
This information reprinted from the Three Minute Apologetics website.
For more in-depth study visit these websites:
Q. Why do Catholics pray to statues?
A. “Catholics worship statues!” People still make this ridiculous claim. Because Catholics have statues in their churches, goes the accusation, they are violating God’s commandment: “You shall not make for yourself a graven image or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: you shall not bow down to them or serve them” (Ex. 20:4–5); “Alas, this people have sinned a great sin; they have made for themselves gods of gold” (Ex. 32:31).
It is right to warn people against the sin of idolatry when they are committing it. But calling Catholics idolaters because they have images of Christ and the saints is based on misunderstanding or ignorance of what the Bible says about the purpose and uses (both good and bad) of statues.
Anti-Catholic writer Loraine Boettner, in his book Roman Catholicism, makes the blanket statement, “God has forbidden the use of images in worship” (281). Yet if people were to “search the scriptures” (cf. John 5:39), they would find the opposite is true. God forbade the worship of statues, but he did not forbid the religious use of statues. Instead, he actually commanded their use in religious contexts!
God Said To Make Them
People who oppose religious statuary forget about the many passages where the Lord commands the making of statues. For example: “And you shall make two cherubim of gold [i.e., two gold statues of angels]; of hammered work shall you make them, on the two ends of the mercy seat. Make one cherub on the one end, and one cherub on the other end; of one piece of the mercy seat shall you make the cherubim on its two ends. The cherubim shall spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings, their faces one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubim be” (Ex. 25:18–20).
David gave Solomon the plan “for the altar of incense made of refined gold, and its weight; also his plan for the golden chariot of the cherubim that spread their wings and covered the ark of the covenant of the Lord. All this he made clear by the writing of the hand of the Lord concerning it all, all the work to be done according to the plan” (1 Chr. 28:18–19). David’s plan for the temple, which the biblical author tells us was “by the writing of the hand of the Lord concerning it all,” included statues of angels.
Similarly Ezekiel 41:17–18 describes graven (carved) images in the idealized temple he was shown in a vision, for he writes, “On the walls round about in the inner room and [on] the nave were carved likenesses of cherubim.”
The Religious Uses of Images
During a plague of serpents sent to punish the Israelites during the exodus, God told Moses to “make [a statue of] a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and every one who is bitten, when he sees it shall live. So Moses made a bronze serpent, and set it on a pole; and if a serpent bit any man, he would look at the bronze serpent and live” (Num. 21:8–9).
One had to look at the bronze statue of the serpent to be healed, which shows that statues could be used ritually, not merely as religious decorations.
Catholics use statues, paintings, and other artistic devices to recall the person or thing depicted. Just as it helps to remember one’s mother by looking at her photograph, so it helps to recall the example of the saints by looking at pictures of them. Catholics also use statues as teaching tools. In the early Church they were especially useful for the instruction of the illiterate. Many Protestants have pictures of Jesus and other Bible pictures in Sunday school for teaching children. Catholics also use statues to commemorate certain people and events, much as Protestant churches have three-dimensional nativity scenes at Christmas.
If one measured Protestants by the same rule, then by using these “graven” images, they would be practicing the “idolatry” of which they accuse Catholics. But there’s no idolatry going on in these situations. God forbids the worship of images as gods, but he doesn’t ban the making of images. If he had, religious movies, videos, photographs, paintings, and all similar things would be banned. But, as the case of the bronze serpent shows, God does not even forbid the ritual use of religious images.
It is when people begin to adore a statue as a god that the Lord becomes angry. Thus when people did start to worship the bronze serpent as a snake-god (whom they named “Nehushtan”), the righteous king Hezekiah had it destroyed (2 Kgs. 18:4).
What About Bowing?
Sometimes anti-Catholics cite Deuteronomy 5:9, where God said concerning idols, “You shall not bow down to them.” Since many Catholics sometimes bow or kneel in front of statues of Jesus and the saints, anti-Catholics confuse the legitimate veneration of a sacred image with the sin of idolatry.
Though bowing can be used as a posture in worship, not all bowing is worship. In Japan, people show respect by bowing in greeting (the equivalent of the Western handshake). Similarly, a person can kneel before a king without worshipping him as a god. In the same way, a Catholic who may kneel in front of a statue while praying isn’t worshipping the statue or even praying to it, any more than the Protestant who kneels with a Bible in his hands when praying is worshipping the Bible or praying to it.
Hiding the Second Commandment?
Another charge sometimes made by Protestants is that the Catholic Church “hides” the second commandment. This is because in Catholic catechisms, the first commandment is often listed as “You shall have no other gods before me” (Ex. 20:3), and the second is listed as “You shall not take the name of the Lord in vain.” (Ex. 20:7). From this, it is argued that Catholics have deleted the prohibition of idolatry to justify their use of religious statues. But this is false. Catholics simply group the commandments differently from most Protestants.
In Exodus 20:2–17, which gives the Ten Commandments, there are actually fourteen imperative statements. To arrive at Ten Commandments, some statements have to be grouped together, and there is more than one way of doing this. Since, in the ancient world, polytheism and idolatry were always united—idolatry being the outward expression of polytheism—the historic Jewish numbering of the Ten Commandments has always grouped together the imperatives “You shall have no other gods before me” (Ex. 20:3) and “You shall not make for yourself a graven image” (Ex. 20:4). The historic Catholic numbering follows the Jewish numbering on this point, as does the historic Lutheran numbering. Martin Luther recognized that the imperatives against polytheism and idolatry are two parts of a single command.
Jews and Christians abbreviate the commandments so that they can be remembered using a summary, ten-point formula. For example, Jews, Catholics, and Protestants typically summarize the Sabbath commandment as, “Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy,” though the commandment’s actual text takes four verses (Ex. 20:8–11).
When the prohibition of polytheism/idolatry is summarized, Jews, Catholics, and Lutherans abbreviate it as “You shall have no other gods before me.” This is no attempt to “hide” the idolatry prohibition (Jews and Lutherans don’t even use statues of saints and angels). It is to make learning the Ten Commandments easier.
The Catholic Church is not dogmatic about how the Ten Commandments are to be numbered, however. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “The division and numbering of the Commandments have varied in the course of history. The present catechism follows the division of the Commandments established by Augustine, which has become traditional in the Catholic Church. It is also that of the Lutheran confession. The Greek Fathers worked out a slightly different division, which is found in the Orthodox Churches and Reformed communities” (CCC 2066).
The Form of God?
Some anti-Catholics appeal to Deuteronomy 4:15–18 in their attack on religious statues: “[S]ince you saw no form on the day that the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, beware lest you act corruptly by making a graven image for yourselves, in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any beast that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the air, the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water under the earth.”
We’ve already shown that God doesn’t prohibit the making of statues or images of various creatures for religious purposes (cf. 1 Kgs. 6:29–32, 8:6–66; 2 Chr. 3:7–14). But what about statues or images that represent God? Many Protestants would say that’s wrong because Deuteronomy 4 says the Israelites did not see God under any form when he made the covenant with them, therefore we should not make symbolic representations of God either. But does Deuteronomy 4 forbid such representations?
The Answer Is No
Early in its history, Israel was forbidden to make any depictions of God because he had not revealed himself in a visible form. Given the pagan culture surrounding them, the Israelites might have been tempted to worship God in the form of an animal or some natural object (e.g., a bull or the sun).
But later God did reveal himself under visible forms, such as in Daniel 7:9: “As I looked, thrones were placed and one that was Ancient of Days took his seat; his raiment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames, its wheels were burning fire.” Protestants make depictions of the Father under this form when they do illustrations of Old Testament prophecies.
The Holy Spirit revealed himself under at least two visible forms—that of a dove, at the baptism of Jesus (Matt. 3:16; Mark 1:10; Luke 3:22; John 1:32), and as tongues of fire, on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1–4). Protestants use these images when drawing or painting these biblical episodes and when they wear Holy Spirit lapel pins or place dove emblems on their cars.
But, more important, in the Incarnation of Christ his Son, God showed mankind an icon of himself. Paul said, “He is the image (Greek: ikon) of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” Christ is the tangible, divine “icon” of the unseen, infinite God.
We read that when the magi were “going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshipped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold, frankincense, and myrrh” (Matt. 2:11). Though God did not reveal a form for himself on Mount Horeb, he did reveal one in the house in Bethlehem.
The bottom line is, when God made the New Covenant with us, he did reveal himself under a visible form in Jesus Christ. For that reason, we can make representations of God in Christ. Even Protestants use all sorts of religious images: Pictures of Jesus and other biblical persons appear on a myriad of Bibles, picture books, T-shirts, jewelry, bumper stickers, greeting cards, compact discs, and manger scenes. Christ is even symbolically represented through the Icthus or “fish emblem.”
Common sense tells us that, since God has revealed himself in various images, most especially in the incarnate Jesus Christ, it’s not wrong for us to use images of these forms to deepen our knowledge and love of God. That’s why God revealed himself in these visible forms, and that’s why statues and pictures are made of them.
Idolatry Condemned by the Church
Since the days of the apostles, the Catholic Church has consistently condemned the sin of idolatry. The early Church Fathers warn against this sin, and Church councils also dealt with the issue.
The Second Council of Nicaea (787), which dealt largely with the question of the religious use of images and icons, said, “[T]he one who redeemed us from the darkness of idolatrous insanity, Christ our God, when he took for his bride his holy Catholic Church . . . promised he would guard her and assured his holy disciples saying, ‘I am with you every day until the consummation of this age.’ . . . To this gracious offer some people paid no attention; being hoodwinked by the treacherous foe they abandoned the true line of reasoning . . . and they failed to distinguish the holy from the profane, asserting that the icons of our Lord and of his saints were no different from the wooden images of satanic idols.”
The Catechism of the Council of Trent (1566) taught that idolatry is committed “by worshipping idols and images as God, or believing that they possess any divinity or virtue entitling them to our worship, by praying to, or reposing confidence in them” (374).
“Idolatry is a perversion of man’s innate religious sense. An idolater is someone who ‘transfers his indestructible notion of God to anything other than God’” (CCC 2114).
The Church absolutely recognizes and condemns the sin of idolatry. What anti-Catholics fail to recognize is the distinction between thinking a piece of stone or plaster is a god and desiring to visually remember Christ and the saints in heaven by making statues in their honor. The making and use of religious statues is a thoroughly biblical practice. Anyone who says otherwise doesn’t know his Bible.
NIHIL OBSTAT: I have concluded that the materials
presented in this work are free of doctrinal or moral errors.
Bernadeane Carr, STL, Censor Librorum, August 10, 2004
IMPRIMATUR: In accord with 1983 CIC 827
permission to publish this work is hereby granted.
+Robert H. Brom, Bishop of San Diego, August 10, 2004
The above response was reprinted from the Catholic Answers website.
Q. As an Evangelical Protestant, I’m not accustomed to hearing about different kinds of grace. As far as I’m concerned, based on what I read in Scripture, there’s only one kind of grace: God’s free gift of eternal life. Yet Catholics refer to sanctifying, sacramental, and actual grace. How do they differ?
A. There are two primary categories of grace: actual and sanctifying. Actual grace is extrinsic to the soul, meaning that it is an impulse to do good or avoid evil that is sent by God and acts upon the soul much like a tugboat gently nudges an ocean liner to move in a certain direction. Sometimes the nudges aren’t very subtle, as in the case of Saul who received a massive blast of actual grace on the road to Damascus in Acts 9:1-8. This actual grace “nudged” him to convert to the Catholic faith. Sanctifying grace, on the other hand, is intrinsic to the soul, meaning that it inheres or takes up residence in the soul. When Saul surrendered his heart to Christ and entered the Church the Holy Spirit infused his soul with sanctifying grace.
Moral theologian Germain Grisez explains that:
Sanctifying grace refers to that in Christians by which they are transformed into the adopted children of God. The share in divine life which God offers created persons is a real regeneration, a second birth. Christians possess a new life which is their own (see Rom 6:4); they are new creatures (see 2 Cor 5:17), new men and men re-created in justice, holiness, and truth (see Eph 4:24). This new life is “grace” because it is a divine gift, “sanctifying” because it really transforms a person with the holiness of divine life. . . .
The expression actual grace is used in various contexts with diverse references. The common element lies in the fact that the various realities referred to move people to act in ways which positively contribute to God’s redemptive work. Thus, actual grace can refer to God’s causality, insofar as God brings sinners to conversion and causes the good deeds of the saints. It can refer specifically to the work of the Holy Spirit in Christians, helping them in their weakness and nourishing their holiness. Sometimes “grace,” in the sense of “actual grace,” refers to created entities conducive to anyone’s salvation or the good of the Church. A pious thought, a chance encounter, or even a difficulty which conduces to holiness is called a “grace.” (Christian Moral Principles [Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press 1983], 1:614)
This article is a reprint from Catholic Answers
Q. Where in the Bible does it say that marriage is between a man and a woman?
A. Marriage between a man and a woman was instituted by God with Adam and Eve. Genesis 2:24 states: “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.”
In Matthew 19:4-5, Jesus reaffirms this: “He answered, ‘Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one’?”
This answer provided by Jim Blackburn, Catholic Answers
Q. Aren’t the Crusades an example of the brutality of the Catholic religion?
A. The Crusades are one of the most misunderstood topics in Church history. Movies and TV present as established fact an outdated anti-Catholic narrative about them that stays alive by sheer repetition. Not only do secular critics of the Church use this narrative to attack Catholicism (and religion in general), but many Catholics unwittingly accept it as true.
The negative “spin” on the Crusades began in the sixteenth century with the Protestant revolutionary Martin Luther, who saw them as an outgrowth of papal authority and power. Later Enlightenment authors such as Voltaire and Edward Gibbon shaped modernity’s negative view of the Crusades by portraying them as barbaric projects undertaken by greedy and savage warriors at the behest of a corrupt papacy. Modern-day Crusade historians, thankfully, eschew the anti-religious prejudices behind this view, and are bringing to light an authentic understanding of these Catholic events from the perspective of those who participated in them. But such scholarship has not eradicated the popular myths.
In order to properly understand the Crusades, we must recognize them as authentically Catholic events in an age of faith. This does not mean that everyone in the Middle Ages was a saint, or that society was perfect; but it was an era in which people made radical life decisions, such as going on Crusade, because of their faith in Jesus Christ and his Church. The modern secular-humanist world, lacking faith, struggles to understand the authentic religious worldview of the medieval period and so is handicapped when trying to understand the Crusades.
The Crusading movement was a Catholic movement. Popes called for Crusades, clerics (and saints) preached them, ecumenical councils planned and discussed them, and Catholic warriors fought them for spiritual benefits. The Crusades cannot be properly understood apart from this Catholic reality. The modern world’s historical amnesia on this point is curable, and the cure begins with Catholics learning the authentic history of their Church and the culture it created. Like the Benedictine monks of old, we modern Catholics can maintain the inheritance of Western Civilization, and correct the errors and biases of our age, through a commitment to learn our history and take pride (where appropriate) for the actions of the men and women who came before us in the Faith.
Many Catholics cringe at the mention of the Crusades, either because they know an anti-Catholic attack is coming, or because they feel embarrassed. But I propose that rather than trying to change the subject or dodge the criticism, we should recognize the “glory” of the Crusades.
What does that mean?
After Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, they sinned against God by worshipping the golden calf. God wanted to destroy the Israelites for their idolatry, but Moses interceded for the people and the Lord relented. Moses’ special relationship with God included the gift of being in the presence of the Lord in the meeting tent, where he spoke to God face to face. Moses pleaded with God for his presence to remain with the Israelites on their journey to the Promised Land so that the other nations would see their uniqueness.
Moses also begged the Lord to show him his glory (Ex. 33:18). The Hebrew word for glory used most often in the Old Testament is kabod, which means “heavy in weight” or something of great importance. In this sense, the Crusading movement—which occupied 600 years of Catholic history—cannot be seen as anything but glorious. That does not mean we whitewash or ignore their bad parts, but simply that we give due attention to their import in the life of the Church.
We live in a time ripe for a reinvigorated sense of Catholic identity, and a thorough knowledge of the Crusades helps us build it. Catholics need to know the authentic history of the Church in order to defend it from its many critics in the modern world; however, for a truly vibrant Catholic identity to take root and flourish, defending the Church is not enough. We must go on the attack, and present the story of our Catholic family with vigor, courage, and resolve.
In the words of Walter Cardinal Brandmüller, president emeritus of the Pontifical Committee for the Historical Sciences:
[W]e should finally stop being like the frightened rabbit that stares at the snake before it is swallowed by it. This defeatist attitude, this whining self-pity that has gained so much ground… in Catholic circles, is an insult to God. What is needed is a new, forceful consciousness of being Catholic.
Recognizing the “glory” of the Crusades is one way that we can take pride in our Catholic identity and contribute to a forceful and positive resurgence of the Faith in the Western world.
Steve Weidenkopf is a lecturer of Church History at the Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom College and the creator and author of Epic: A Journey through Church History, an adult faith-formation program on the 2,000-year history of the Church. His book, The Glory of the Crusades, is available here.
Q. How do you explain the Marian Dogmas to a Protestant?
A. From A Catholic Answers Tract
The Immaculate Conception and the Assumption
The Marian doctrines are, for fundamentalists, among the most annoying of the doctrines most people identify as peculiarly Catholic. Fundamentalists disapprove of any talk about Mary as the Mother of God, as the Mediatrix, as the Mother of the Church. In this tract we’ll examine briefly two Marian doctrines that fundamentalist writers frequently complain about, the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption.
Catholic exegetes, in discussing the Immaculate Conception, first look at the Annunciation. Gabriel greeted Mary by saying, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you” (Luke 1:28). The phrase “full of grace” is a translation of the Greek kecharitomene. This word actually represents the proper name of the person being addressed by the angel, and it must on that account express a characteristic quality of Mary. What’s more, the traditional translation, “full of grace,” is more accurate than the one found in many recent versions of the New Testament, which give something along the lines of “highly favored daughter.” True, Mary was a highly favored daughter of God, but the Greek implies more than that.
The newer translations leave out something the Greek conveys, something the older English versions convey, which is that this grace (and the core of the word kecharitomene is charis, after all) is at once permanent and of a singular kind. The Greek indicates a perfection of grace. A perfection must be perfect not only intensively, but extensively. The grace Mary enjoyed must not only have been as “full” or strong or complete as possible at any given time, but it must have extended over the whole of her life, from conception.
More Than Highly Favored
That is, she must have been in a state of sanctifying grace from the first moment of her existence to have been called “full of grace.” If she was merely “highly favored,” in the normal connotation of those words, her status would have been indistinguishable from that of some other women in the Bible, such as Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, or Sarah, the wife of Abraham, or Anna, the mother of Samuel–all of whom, by the way, were long childless and were “highly favored” because God acceded to their pleas to bear children.
(By the way, one should keep in mind what the Immaculate Conception is not. Some non-Catholics think the term refers to Christ’s conception in Mary’s womb without the intervention of a human father; the proper name for that is the Virgin Birth. Others think the Immaculate Conception means Mary herself was conceived “by the power of the Holy Spirit,” in the way Jesus was, but it does not. The Immaculate Conception means that Mary, whose conception was brought about the normal way, was conceived in the womb of her mother without the stain of Original Sin. The essence of Original Sin consists in the lack of sanctifying grace. Mary was preserved from this defect; from the first instant of her existence she was in the state of sanctifying grace.)
Fundamentalists’ chief reason for objecting to the Immaculate Conception and Mary’s consequent sinlessness–which is what her life-long state of sanctifying grace implies–is that Mary was but a creature, and we are told that “All have sinned” (Rom. 3:23). Besides, they say, Mary said her “spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:47), and only a sinner needs a Savior. Since Mary was a sinner, she couldn’t have been immaculately conceived.
Take the second citation first. The Church has a simple and sensible answer to this difficulty. It is this: Mary, too, required a Savior. Like all other descendants of Adam, by her nature she was subject to the necessity of contracting Original Sin. But by a special intervention of God, undertaken at the instant she was conceived, she was preserved from the stain of Original Sin and certain of its consequences. She was therefore redeemed by the grace of Christ, but in a special way, by anticipation. The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception thus does not contradict Luke 1:47.
Have All Sinned?
But what about Rom. 3:23, “All have sinned”? Fundamentalists, as a rule, think it means more than that everyone is subject to Original Sin. They think it means everyone commits actual sins. They conclude it means Mary must have sinned during her life, and that certainly would speak against an Immaculate Conception.
But is the fundamentalists’ reasoning solid? Not really. Think about a child below the age of reason. By definition he can’t sin, since sinning requires the ability to reason and the ability to intend to sin. If the child dies before ever committing an actual sin, because he isn’t mature enough to know what he is doing, what act of his brings him under their interpretation of Rom. 3:23? None, of course.
Paul’s comment to the Christians in Rome thus would seem to have one of two meanings. Despite the phrasing, it might be that it refers not to absolutely everyone, but just to the mass of mankind (which means young children and other special cases, like Mary, would be excluded without having to be singled out). If not that, then it would mean that everyone, without exception, is subject to Original Sin [i.e., all of Adam’s descendents are subject to the results of his fall, unless they are redeemed by Christ], which is true for a young child, for the unborn, even for Mary–but she, though otherwise she would have been subject to it, was preserved from its stain by her Son’s redemptive work.
It took a positive act of God to keep her from coming under its effects the way we have. We had the stain of Original Sin removed through baptism, which brings sanctifying grace to the soul (thus making the soul spiritually alive and capable of enjoying heaven) and makes the recipient a member of the Church. We might say that Mary received a very special kind of “baptism” at her conception, though, because she never contracted Original Sin, she enjoyed certain privileges we never can, such as entire avoidance of sin.
A Question of Lowliness
On occasion one will hear that the Immaculate Conception can’t be squared with Mary’s own description of herself: “he has looked graciously on the lowliness of his handmaid” (Luke 1:48). How could she be lowly if she were, as Catholics say, the highest creature, what the poet Wordsworth called “our tainted nature’s solitary boast”? If she understood herself to be lowly, doesn’t that mean she understood herself to have sinned?
The key is that sin is not the only motive for lowliness. Compared to God, any creature, no matter how perfect, is lowly, Mary included. Jesus, referring to his human nature, said, “Learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart” (Matt. 11:29). Certainly he was without sin, and if he could describe himself as lowly, there can be no argument against Mary describing herself the same way.
The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was officially defined by Pope Pius IX in 1854. When fundamentalists claim that the doctrine was “invented” at this time, they misunderstand both the history of dogmas and what prompts the Church to issue, from time to time, definitive pronouncements regarding faith or morals. They are under the impression that no dogma is believed until the Pope or an ecumenical council issues a formal statement about it.
Actually, dogmas are defined formally only when there is a controversy that needs to be cleared up or when the magisterium (the teaching authority of the Church) thinks the faithful can be helped by particular emphasis being drawn to some already- existing belief. The definition of the Immaculate Conception was prompted by the latter motive; it did not come about because there were widespread doubts about the doctrine. Pius IX, who was highly devoted to the Virgin, hoped the definition would inspire others in their devotion to her.
As they reject the Immaculate Conception and Mary’s perpetual virginity, so fundamentalists reject the dogma of the Assumption, but they don’t worry about it much. What little thought they give to it concerns why Catholics think Mary didn’t die. That isn’t the Catholic position, of course, but fundamentalists think it is, and they are concerned about a privilege which finds no warrant in Scripture.
They note that Enoch “walked with God, and he was seen no more because God took him” (Gen. 5:24). He was translated so as not to see death (Heb. 11:5). And then there was Elijah, who was taken up into heaven in a fiery chariot (4 Kings 2:1-13). But the Bible says nothing about what happened to Mary, and doesn’t it seem that there would be some mention of her never dying? After all, it would have been truly “remark-able.”
There is a certain sense in their argument, and if the doctrine of the Assumption were what they think it is, the argument would carry some weight. But it is beside the point because Catholic commentators, not to mention the popes, have agreed that Mary died; that belief has long been expressed through the liturgy. (The Church has never formally defined whether she died or not, and the integrity of the doctrine of the Assumption would not impaired if she did not die, but the almost universal consensus is that she did in fact die.)
The Assumption is therefore simpler than fundamentalists fear, though still not acceptable to them. Pope Pius XII, in Munificentissimus Deus (1950), defined that Mary, “after the completion of her earthly life”–note the silence regarding her death–“was assumed body and soul into the glory of Heaven.” In short, her body wasn’t allowed to corrupt, it was not allowed to remain in a tomb.
True, no express scriptural proofs for the doctrine are available. But the possibility of a bodily assumption before the Second Coming is not excluded by 1 Cor. 15:23, and it is even suggested by Matt. 27:52-53: “and the graves were opened, and many bodies arose out of them, bodies of holy men gone to their rest: who, after his rising again, left their graves and went into the holy city, where they were seen by many.”
And there is what might be called the negative historical proof. As every fundamentalist knows, from the first Catholics gave homage to saints, including many about whom we now know nothing. Cities vied for the title of the last resting place of the most famous saints. Rome, for example, claims the tombs of Peter and Paul, Peter’s tomb being under the high altar of the Basilica that bears his name. Other cities claim the mortal remains of other saints, both famous and little-known.
We know that the bones of some saints were distributed to several cities, so more than one, for example, are able to claim the “head” of this or that saint, even if the “head” is only a small portion of the skull. With a few exceptions (such as Peter, who was only claimed by Rome, never, for example, by Antioch, where he worked before moving on to Rome), the more famous or important the saint, the more cities wanted his relics.
We know that after the Crucifixion Mary was cared for by the apostle John (John 19:26- 27). Early Christian writings say John went to live at Ephesus and that Mary accompanied him. There is some dispute about where she ended her life; perhaps there, perhaps back at Jerusalem. Neither those cities nor any other claimed her remains, though there are claims about possessing her (temporary) tomb. And why did no city claim the bones of Mary? Apparently because there weren’t any bones to claim and people knew it.
Remember, in the early Christian centuries relics of saints were jealously guarded, highly prized. The bones of those martyred in the Colosseum, for instance, were quickly gathered up and preserved; there are many accounts of this in the biographies of those who gave their lives for the faith. Yet here was Mary, certainly the most privileged of all the saints, certainly the most saintly, but we have no record of her bodily remains being venerated anywhere.
Most arguments in favor of the Assumption, as developed over the centuries by the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, concern not so much scriptural references (there are few that speak even indirectly to the matter), but rather the fittingness of the privilege. The speculative grounds considered include Mary’s freedom from sin, her Motherhood of God, her perpetual virginity, and–the key–her participation in the salvific work of Christ. It seems most fitting that she should attain the full fruit of the Redemption, which is the glorification of the soul and body.
But there is more than just fittingness. Pius XII said the Assumption is really a consequence of the Immaculate Conception. “These two singular privileges bestowed upon the Mother of God stand out in most splendid light at the beginning and the end of her earthly journey. For the greatest possible glorification of her virgin body is the complement, at once appropriate and marvelous, of the absolute innocence of her soul, which was free from all stain. … [S]he shared in [Christ’s] glorious triumph over sin and its sad consequences.”
“But,” ask fundamentalists, “if Mary was immaculately conceived, and if death was a consequence of Original Sin, why did she die?” Although she was wholly innocent and never committed a sin, she died in order to be in union with Jesus. Keep in mind that he did not have to die to effect our redemption; he could have just willed it, and that would have been sufficient. But he chose to die.
Mary identified herself with his work, her whole life being a cooperation with God’s plan of salvation, certainly from her saying “Let it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38), but really from the very start of her life. She accepted death as Jesus accepted death, and she suffered (Luke 2:35) in union with his suffering. Just as she shared in his work, she shared in his glorification. She shared in his Resurrection by having her glorified body taken into heaven, the way the glorified bodies of all the saved will be taken into heaven on the last day.
(It is also necessary to keep in mind what the Assumption is not. Some people think Catholics believe Mary “ascended” into heaven. That’s not correct. Christ, by his own power, ascended into heaven. Mary was assumed or taken up into heaven by God. She didn’t do it under her own power.)
Still, fundamentalists ask, where is the proof from Scripture? Strictly, there is none. It was the Catholic Church that was commissioned by Christ to teach all nations and to teach them infallibly. The mere fact that the Church teaches the doctrine of the Assumption as something definitely true is a guarantee that it is true.
Here, of course, we get into an entirely separate matter, the question of sola scriptura. There is no room in this tract to consider that idea. Let it just be said that if the position of the Catholic Church is true, then the notion of sola scriptura is false. There is then no problem with the Church officially defining a doctrine which, though not in contradiction to Scripture, cannot be found on its face. (After all, the Bible says nothing against the Assumption; silence is not the same as rejection, though, to be sure, silence is not the same as affirmation either. Silence is just–silence.)
This article reprinted from the EWTN website
Q. Where does Catholic Church authority and papal infallibility come from?
A. One of the biggest problems Protestants have with the Roman Catholic Church is the requirement for obedience. One God, one Son, one Spirit, one Church. Christ did not create a fragmented Church. That was a creation of man. For almost 1600 years there was only one Church. Not until several members of the Catholic clergy (Luther, Calvin, etc) began to preach heresies did the Protestant reformation begin. Below are several scripture passages that define the authority of the Church. The most important point to understand is that obedience to the Church IS obedience to God.
“But if I should be delayed, you should know how to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of truth.” 1 Timothy 3:15
Of particular interest here is that Paul calls the Church the pillar and foundation of truth. Of course the scripture is important, but it is the Church that leads us. To resist the Church is to resist truth. When someone sets themselves up to interpret the scripture outside Church teaching, they are setting themselves above the Church. The next scripture passage explains the importance of obedience to the authority, which includes the Church.
“Let every person be subordinate to the higher authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been established by God. Therefore, whoever resists authority opposes what God has appointed, and those who oppose it will bring judgment upon themselves.” Romans 13:1-2
This passage should be frightening to those who do not submit to the Authority of the Church. When Christ founded the Church and commissioned its leaders, he granted them the authority necessary to fulfill its mission. So when we, in an independent spirit, decide that we can do it without the Church, we are in fact bringing judgment upon ourselves. One of the greatest gifts of God was freewill. The only question is how will you use it. This next passage also tells us about obedience to the Church.
“Obey your leaders and defer to them, for they keep watch over you and will have to give an account, that they may fulfill their task with joy and not with sorrow, for that would be of no advantage to you.” Hebrews 13:17
“Then Jesus approached and said to them, ‘All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.’ “ Matthew 28:18-20
Jesus commanded the Apostles to go forth and teach, not go forth and distribute Bibles and let the people figure it out for themselves. Every time I think about the fundamentalist approach to faith, I think about the widely used phrase “lost sheep.” How frightening it must be to be handed a Bible and expected to understand it. The odd thing about it is that few fundamentalist are actually fundamentalist. They expect you to agree with their version of the Bible. So in essence, you are actually following the “teaching” of a Church founded by man (Luther, Calvin, Henry VIII) instead of the Church created and commissioned by Christ.
“so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the principalities and authorities in the heavens.” Ephesians 3:10
Faith is made know to all through the Church. Its as simple as that.
“We belong to God, and anyone who knows God listens to us, while anyone who does not belong to God refuses to hear us. This is how we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of deceit.” 1 John 4:6
Anyone who does not belong to God does not listen to us? That is a very powerful statement. This is how we know the spirit of truth and deceit? What does this say about those who founded the Protestant movement and perpetuates it today? At what point do we realize the problems with the Protestant movement? No man can find salvation on his own through the Bible. There is not a “to do” list for salvation. There is so much more to Faith that what is in the Bible.
“When you read this you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to human beings in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” Ephesians 3:4-6
There is no reason to believe that the truth will be revealed to each individual. If that were the case, would not the same be revealed to all? The Holy Spirit reveals the truth to the Bishops of the Church, modern day successors to the Apostles.
“So we are sending Judas and Silas who will also convey this same message by word of mouth: ‘It is the decision of the holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities, namely, to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, from meats of strangled animals, and from unlawful marriage. If you keep free of these, you will be doing what is right. Farewell.'” And so they were sent on their journey. Upon their arrival in Antioch they called the assembly together and delivered the letter. “ Acts 15:27-30
This is a good example of the Church interpreting the truth and faith to a community. The Church did not allow each community to interpret what was right on their own. The “Jerusalem Council” council above was the first recorded Church Council. The last was Vatican II. The Church has, and always will, be tasked to be the voice of truth to mankind placed in context with the current time and place. Just as the Jerusalem Council dealt with the question of conversion to Christianity, today’s Church deals with questions of genetic engineering, contraception, and other issues of this time and place. Sometimes in our arrogance we assume that we are the purveyors of the truth. The spirit of independence that built this country can sometimes be the very reason for our downfall in the sense of the Faith. We can be independent in a social sense, but we must always be dependent in a spiritual sense.
This response is reprinted from the Our Catholic Faith website.
Q. Why do Catholics believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist?
A. Protestant attacks on the Catholic Church often focus on the Eucharist. This demonstrates that opponents of the Church—mainly Evangelicals and Fundamentalists—recognize one of Catholicism’s core doctrines. What’s more, the attacks show that Fundamentalists are not always literalists. This is seen in their interpretation of the key biblical passage, chapter six of John’s Gospel, in which Christ speaks about the sacrament that will be instituted at the Last Supper. This tract examines the last half of that chapter.
John 6:30 begins a colloquy that took place in the synagogue at Capernaum. The Jews asked Jesus what sign he could perform so that they might believe in him. As a challenge, they noted that “our ancestors ate manna in the desert.” Could Jesus top that? He told them the real bread from heaven comes from the Father. “Give us this bread always,” they said. Jesus replied, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.” At this point the Jews understood him to be speaking metaphorically.
Again and Again
Jesus first repeated what he said, then summarized: “‘I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.’ The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’” (John 6:51–52).
His listeners were stupefied because now they understood Jesus literally—and correctly. He again repeated his words, but with even greater emphasis, and introduced the statement about drinking his blood: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” (John 6:53–56).
Notice that Jesus made no attempt to soften what he said, no attempt to correct “misunderstandings,” for there were none. Our Lord’s listeners understood him perfectly well. They no longer thought he was speaking metaphorically. If they had, if they mistook what he said, why no correction?
On other occasions when there was confusion, Christ explained just what he meant (cf. Matt. 16:5–12). Here, where any misunderstanding would be fatal, there was no effort by Jesus to correct. Instead, he repeated himself for greater emphasis.
In John 6:60 we read: “Many of his disciples, when they heard it, said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?’” These were his disciples, people used to his remarkable ways. He warned them not to think carnally, but spiritually: “It is the Spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 6:63; cf. 1 Cor. 2:12–14).
But he knew some did not believe. (It is here, in the rejection of the Eucharist, that Judas fell away; look at John 6:64.) “After this, many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him” (John 6:66).
This is the only record we have of any of Christ’s followers forsaking him for purely doctrinal reasons. If it had all been a misunderstanding, if they erred in taking a metaphor in a literal sense, why didn’t he call them back and straighten things out? Both the Jews, who were suspicious of him, and his disciples, who had accepted everything up to this point, would have remained with him had he said he was speaking only symbolically.
But he did not correct these protesters. Twelve times he said he was the bread that came down from heaven; four times he said they would have “to eat my flesh and drink my blood.” John 6 was an extended promise of what would be instituted at the Last Supper—and it was a promise that could not be more explicit. Or so it would seem to a Catholic. But what do Fundamentalists say?
They say that in John 6 Jesus was not talking about physical food and drink, but about spiritual food and drink. They quote John 6:35: “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.’” They claim that coming to him is bread, having faith in him is drink. Thus, eating his flesh and blood merely means believing in Christ.
But there is a problem with that interpretation. As Fr. John A. O’Brien explains, “The phrase ‘to eat the flesh and drink the blood,’ when used figuratively among the Jews, as among the Arabs of today, meant to inflict upon a person some serious injury, especially by calumny or by false accusation. To interpret the phrase figuratively then would be to make our Lord promise life everlasting to the culprit for slandering and hating him, which would reduce the whole passage to utter nonsense” (O’Brien, The Faith of Millions, 215). For an example of this use, see Micah 3:3.
Fundamentalist writers who comment on John 6 also assert that one can show Christ was speaking only metaphorically by comparing verses like John 10:9 (“I am the door”) and John 15:1 (“I am the true vine”). The problem is that there is not a connection to John 6:35, “I am the bread of life.” “I am the door” and “I am the vine” make sense as metaphors because Christ is like a door—we go to heaven through him—and he is also like a vine—we get our spiritual sap through him. But Christ takes John 6:35 far beyond symbolism by saying, “For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed” (John 6:55).
He continues: “As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me” (John 6:57). The Greek word used for “eats” (trogon) is very blunt and has the sense of “chewing” or “gnawing.” This is not the language of metaphor.
Their Main Argument
For Fundamentalist writers, the scriptural argument is capped by an appeal to John 6:63: “It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” They say this means that eating real flesh is a waste. But does this make sense?
Are we to understand that Christ had just commanded his disciples to eat his flesh, then said their doing so would be pointless? Is that what “the flesh is of no avail” means? “Eat my flesh, but you’ll find it’s a waste of time”—is that what he was saying? Hardly.
The fact is that Christ’s flesh avails much! If it were of no avail, then the Son of God incarnated for no reason, he died for no reason, and he rose from the dead for no reason. Christ’s flesh profits us more than anyone else’s in the world. If it profits us nothing, so that the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ are of no avail, then “your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished” (1 Cor. 15:17b–18).
In John 6:63 “flesh profits nothing” refers to mankind’s inclination to think using only what their natural human reason would tell them rather than what God would tell them. Thus in John 8:15–16 Jesus tells his opponents: “You judge according to the flesh, I judge no one. Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is true, for it is not I alone that judge, but I and he who sent me.” So natural human judgment, unaided by God’s grace, is unreliable; but God’s judgment is always true.
And were the disciples to understand the line “The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life” as nothing but a circumlocution (and a very clumsy one at that) for “symbolic”? No one can come up with such interpretations unless he first holds to the Fundamentalist position and thinks it necessary to find a rationale, no matter how forced, for evading the Catholic interpretation. In John 6:63 “flesh” does not refer to Christ’s own flesh—the context makes this clear—but to mankind’s inclination to think on a natural, human level. “The words I have spoken to you are spirit” does not mean “What I have just said is symbolic.” The word “spirit” is never used that way in the Bible. The line means that what Christ has said will be understood only through faith; only by the power of the Spirit and the drawing of the Father (cf. John 6:37, 44–45, 65).
Paul Confirms This
Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” (1 Cor. 10:16). So when we receive Communion, we actually participate in the body and blood of Christ, not just eat symbols of them. Paul also said, “Therefore whoever eats the bread and drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. . . . For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself” (1 Cor. 11:27, 29). “To answer for the body and blood” of someone meant to be guilty of a crime as serious as homicide. How could eating mere bread and wine “unworthily” be so serious? Paul’s comment makes sense only if the bread and wine became the real body and blood of Christ.
What Did the First Christians Say?
Anti-Catholics also claim the early Church took this chapter symbolically. Is that so? Let’s see what some early Christians thought, keeping in mind that we can learn much about how Scripture should be interpreted by examining the writings of early Christians.
Ignatius of Antioch, who had been a disciple of the apostle John and who wrote a letter to the Smyrnaeans about A.D. 110, said, referring to “those who hold heterodox opinions,” that “they abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, flesh which suffered for our sins and which the Father, in his goodness, raised up again” (6:2, 7:1).
Forty years later, Justin Martyr, wrote, “Not as common bread or common drink do we receive these; but since Jesus Christ our Savior was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by him, and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nourished, . . . is both the flesh and the blood of that incarnated Jesus” (First Apology 66:1–20).
Origen, in a homily written about A.D. 244, attested to belief in the Real Presence. “I wish to admonish you with examples from your religion. You are accustomed to take part in the divine mysteries, so you know how, when you have received the Body of the Lord, you reverently exercise every care lest a particle of it fall and lest anything of the consecrated gift perish. You account yourselves guilty, and rightly do you so believe, if any of it be lost through negligence” (Homilies on Exodus 13:3).
Cyril of Jerusalem, in a catechetical lecture presented in the mid-300s, said, “Do not, therefore, regard the bread and wine as simply that, for they are, according to the Master’s declaration, the body and blood of Christ. Even though the senses suggest to you the other, let faith make you firm. Do not judge in this matter by taste, but be fully assured by faith, not doubting that you have been deemed worthy
of the body and blood of Christ” (Catechetical Discourses: Mystagogic 4:22:9).
In a fifth-century homily, Theodore of Mopsuestia seemed to be speaking to today’s Evangelicals and Fundamentalists: “When [Christ] gave the bread he did not say, ‘This is the symbol of my body,’ but, ‘This is my body.’ In the same way, when he gave the cup of his blood he did not say, ‘This is the symbol of my blood,’ but, ‘This is my blood,’ for he wanted us to look upon the [Eucharistic elements], after their reception of grace and the coming of the Holy Spirit, not according to their nature, but to receive them as they are, the body and blood of our Lord” (Catechetical Homilies 5:1).
Whatever else might be said, the early Church took John 6 literally. In fact, there is no record from the early centuries that implies Christians doubted the constant Catholic interpretation. There exists no document in which the literal interpretation is opposed and only the metaphorical accepted.
Why do Fundamentalists and Evangelicals reject the plain, literal interpretation of John 6? For them, Catholic sacraments are out because they imply a spiritual reality—grace—being conveyed by means of matter. This seems to them to be a violation of the divine plan. For many Protestants, matter is not to be used, but overcome or avoided.
One suspects, had they been asked by the Creator their opinion of how to bring about mankind’s salvation, Fundamentalists would have advised him to adopt a different approach. How much cleaner things would be if spirit never dirtied itself with matter! But God approves of matter—he approves of it because he created it—and he approves of it so much that he comes to us under the appearances of bread and wine, just as he does in the physical form of the Incarnate Christ.
NIHIL OBSTAT: I have concluded that the materials
presented in this work are free of doctrinal or moral errors.
Bernadeane Carr, STL, Censor Librorum, August 10, 2004
IMPRIMATUR: In accord with 1983 CIC 827
permission to publish this work is hereby granted.
+Robert H. Brom, Bishop of San Diego, August 10, 2004
This response was reprinted from Catholic Answers website
Q. In the Old Testament, why did God order the destruction of the Canaanites?
The following answer is provided in this reprint of an article appearing on the Apologetics Press website
God’s Just Destruction of the Canaanites
In the 1930s and 40s, the Nazi regime committed state-sponsored genocide of so-called “inferior races.” Of the approximately nine million Jews who lived in Europe at the beginning of the 1930s, some six million of them were exterminated. The Nazis murdered approximately one million Jewish children, two million Jewish women, and three million Jewish men. The Jews were starved, gassed, and experimented on like animals. In addition, Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime slaughtered another three million Poles, Soviets, gypsies, and people with disabilities (see “Holocaust,” 2011 for more information). Most sane people, including Christians and many atheists (e.g., Antony Flew, Wallace Matson), have interpreted the Nazis’ actions for what they were—cruel, callous, and nefarious.
Some 3,400 years before the Holocaust, the God of the Bible commanded the Israelites to “destroy all the inhabitants of the land” of Canaan (Joshua 9:24). They were to conquer, kill, and cast out the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites (Exodus 23:23; Deuteronomy 7:1-2; Joshua 3:10). After crossing the Jordan River, we learn in the book of Joshua that the Israelites “utterly destroyed all that was in the city [of Jericho], both man and woman, young and old, ox and sheep and donkey, with the edge of the sword…. [T]hey burned the city and all that was in it with fire” (Joshua 6:21,24). They also “utterly destroyed all the inhabitants of Ai” (Joshua 8:26), killing 12,000 men and women and hanging their king (8:25,29). In Makkedah and Libnah, the Israelites “let none remain” (Joshua 10:28,30). They struck Lachish “and all the people who were in it with the edge of the sword” (10:32). The Israelites then conquered Gezer, Eglon, Hebron, Debir, and Hazor (10:33-39; 11:1-1). “So all the cities of those kings, and all their kings, Joshua took and struck with the edge of the sword. He utterly destroyed them, as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded” (Joshua 11:12).
God had the Israelites kill countless thousands, perhaps millions, of people throughout the land of Canaan. It was genocide in the sense that it was a planned, systematic, limited extermination of a number of nation states from a relatively small area in the Middle East (cf. “Genocide,” 2000; cf. also “Genocide,” 2012). But, it was not a war against a particular race (from the Greek genos) or ethnic group. Nor were the Israelites commanded to pursue and kill the Canaanite nations if they fled from Israel’s Promised Land. The Israelites were to drive out and dispossess the nations of their land (killing all who resisted the dispossession), but they were not instructed to annihilate a particular race or ethnic group from the face of the Earth.
Still, many find God’s commands to conquer and destroy the Canaanite nation states problematic. How could a loving God instruct one group of people to kill and conquer another group? America’s most well-known critic of Christianity in the late 1700s and early 1800s, Thomas Paine (one of only a handful of America’s Founding Fathers who did not claim to be a Christian), called the God of the Old Testament “the Mars of the Jews, the fighting God of Israel,” Who was “boisterous, contemptible, and vulgar” (Paine, 1807). Two centuries later, Richard Dawkins (arguably the most famous atheist in the world today), published his book The God Delusion, which soon became a New York Times bestseller. One of the most oft-quoted phrases from this work comes from page 31, where Dawkins called God, a “racist, infanticidal, genocidal…capriciously malevolent bully” (2006). According to one search engine, this quote (in part or in whole) is found on-line approximately one million times. The fact is, critics of the God of the Bible are fond of repeating the allegation that, because of His instruction to the Israelites to kill millions of people in their conquest of Canaan, the God of the Bible has (allegedly) shown Himself to be an unruly, shameful, offensive, genocidal, “evil monster” (Dawkins, p. 248; cf. Hitchens, 2007, p. 107).
WAS GOD’S CAMPAIGN AGAINST CANAAN IMMORAL?
How could a supremely good (Mark 10:18), all-loving (1 John 4:8), perfectly holy God (Leviticus 11:44-45) order the Israelites to slay with swords myriads of human beings, letting “none remain” in Canaan? Is such a planned, systematic extermination of nations not equivalent to the murderous actions of the Nazis in the 1930s and 40s, as atheists and other critics of Christianity would have us believe? In truth, God’s actions in Israel’s conquest of Canaan were in perfect harmony with His supremely loving, merciful, righteous, just, and holy nature.
Punishing Evildoers is Not Unloving
Similar to how merciful parents, principals, policemen, and judges can justly administer punishment to rule-breakers and evildoers, so too can the all-knowing, all-loving Creator of the Universe. Loving parents and principals have administered corporal punishment appropriately to children for years (cf. Proverbs 13:24). Merciful policemen, who are constantly saving he lives of the innocent, have the authority (both from God and the government—Romans 13:1-4) to kill a wicked person who is murdering others. Just judges have the authority to sentence a depraved child rapist to death. Loving-kindness and corporal or capital punishment are not antithetical. Prior to conquering Canaan, God commanded the Israelites, saying,
You shall not hate your brother in your heart…. You shall not take vengeance nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself…. And if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him. The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself (Leviticus 19:17-18,33-34; cf. Romans 13:9).
The faithful Jew was expected, as are Christians, to “not resist an evil person” (Matthew 5:39) but rather “go the extra mile” (Matthew 5:41) and “turn the other cheek” (Matthew 5:39). “Love,” after all, “is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:10; cf. Matthew 22:36-40). Interestingly, however, the Israelite was commanded to punish (even kill) lawbreakers. Just five chapters after commanding the individual Israelite to “not take vengeance,” but “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18), God twice said that murderers would receive the death penalty (Leviticus 24:21,17).
The Wickedness of the Inhabitants of Canaan
The Canaanite nations were punished because of their extreme wickedness. God did not cast out the Canaanites for being a particular race or ethnic group. God did not send the Israelites into the land of Canaan to destroy a number of righteous nations. On the contrary, the Canaanite nations were horribly depraved. They practiced “abominable customs” (Leviticus 18:30) and did “detestable things” (Deuteronomy 18:9, NASB). They practiced idolatry, witchcraft, soothsaying, and sorcery. They attempted to cast spells upon people and call up the dead (Deuteronomy 18:10-11).
Their “cultic practice was barbarous and thoroughly licentious” (Unger, 1954, p. 175). Their “deities…had no moral character whatever,” which “must have brought out the worst traits in their devotees and entailed many of the most demoralizing practices of the time,” including sensuous nudity, orgiastic nature-worship, snake worship, and even child sacrifice (Unger, p. 175; cf. Albright, 1940, p. 214). As Moses wrote, the inhabitants of Canaan would “burn even their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods” (Deuteronomy 12:30). The Canaanite nations were anything but “innocent.” In truth, “[t]hese Canaanite cults were utterly immoral, decadent, and corrupt, dangerously contaminating and thoroughly justifying the divine command to destroy their devotees” (Unger, 1988). They were so nefarious that God said they defiled the land and the land could stomach them no longer—“the land vomited out its inhabitants” (Leviticus 18:25).
The Longsuffering of God
Unlike the foolish, impulsive, quick-tempered reactions of many men (Proverbs 14:29), the Lord is “slow to anger and great in mercy” (Psalm 145:8). He is “longsuffering…, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Immediately following a reminder to the Christians in Rome that the Old Testament was “written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope,” the apostle Paul referred to God as “the God of patience” (Romans 15:4-5). Throughout the Old Testament, the Bible writers portrayed God as longsuffering.
Though in Noah’s day, “the wickedness of man was great in the earth” and “ever intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5), “the Divine longsuffering waited” (1 Peter 3:20). (It seems as though God delayed flooding Earth for 120 years as His Spirit’s message of righteousness was preached to a wicked world—Genesis 6:3; 2 Peter 2:5.) In the days of Abraham, God ultimately decided to spare the iniquitous city of Sodom, not if 50 righteous people were found living therein, but only 10 righteous individuals.
And what about prior to God’s destruction of the Canaanite nations? Did God quickly decide to cast them out of the land? Did He respond to the peoples’ wickedness like an impulsive, reckless mad-man? Or was He, as the Bible repeatedly states and exemplifies, longsuffering? Indeed, God waited. He waited more than four centuries to bring judgment upon the inhabitants of Canaan. Although the Amorites were already a sinful people in Abraham’s day, God delayed in giving the descendants of the patriarch the Promised Land. He would wait until the Israelites had been in Egypt for hundreds of years, because at the time that God spoke with Abraham “the iniquity of the Amorites” was “not yet complete” (Genesis 15:16). [NOTE: “The Amorites were so numerous and powerful a tribe in Canaan that they are sometimes named for the whole of the ancient inhabitants, as they are here” (Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown, 1997).] In Abraham’s day, the inhabitants of Canaan were not so degenerate that God would bring judgment upon them. However, by the time of Joshua (more than 400 years later), the Canaanites’ iniquity was full, and God used the army of Israel to destroy them.
Yes, God is longsuffering, but His longsuffering is not an “eternal” suffering. His patience with impenitent sinners eventually ends. It ended for a wicked world in the days of Noah. It ended for Sodom and Gomorrah in the days of Abraham. And it eventually ended for the inhabitants of Canaan, whom God justly destroyed.
What About the Innocent Children?
The children of Canaan were not guilty of their parents’ sins (cf. Ezekiel 18:20); they were sinless, innocent, precious human beings (cf. Matthew 18:3-5; see Butt, 2003). So how could God justly take the lives of children, any children, “who have no knowledge of good and evil” (Deuteronomy 1:39)? The fact is, as Dave Miller properly noted, “Including the children in the destruction of such populations actually spared them from a worse condition—that of being reared to be as wicked as their parents and thus face eternal punishment. All persons who die in childhood, according to the Bible, are ushered to Paradise and will ultimately reside in Heaven. Children who have parents who are evil must naturally suffer innocently while on Earth (e.g., Numbers 14:33)” (Miller, 2009). [NOTE: For a superb, extensive discussion on the relationship between (1) the goodness of God, (2) the contradictory, hideousness of atheism, and (3) God bringing about the death of various infants throughout history, see Kyle Butt’s article “Is God Immoral for Killing Innocent Children?” (2009).]
Though the enemies of the God of the Bible are frequently heard criticizing Israel’s conquest of Canaan, the fact is, such a conquest was in complete harmony with God’s perfectly loving, holy, and righteous nature. After patiently waiting for hundreds of years, God eventually used the Israelites to bring judgment upon myriads of wicked Canaanites. Simultaneously, He spared their children a fate much worse than physical death—the horror of growing up in a reprehensible culture and becoming like their hedonistic parents—and immediately ushered them into a pain-free, marvelous place called Paradise (Luke 16:19-31; 23:43).
Q. Why do Catholics believe in Purgatory?
A. The Catholic Church’s belief in the existence of purgatory is based on scripture. It is important to understand what the Church believes purgatory is. The Catechism describes purgatory like this: “All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven” (CCC 1030).
Note that the Church believes that purgatory is not an eternal state, but rather a state of purification before entering eternal life with God in heaven.
Scripture teaches us that nothing unclean can enter heaven (Revelation 21:27). Scripture also describes a place where a man goes and suffers loss, yet is still saved, but only through fire (1 Corinthians 3:13-15). Purgatory is this place that cleanses us of whatever impurity we have when we die, allowing us to enter into God’s presence without the stain of sin.
As Catholics, many of us have a tendency to discount the importance of Purgatory and, if we think of it at all, it’s with the idea of it being a temporary and brief interim stop on our way to Heaven. We need to remember that our concept of “time” is formed by our experience in this life on earth.
Compared with the endless meaning of eternity it might be more logical to assume “time” spent in Purgatory is likely to be far, far longer than our time here on earth. Even if we spent thousands of years in Purgatory, it would still be nothing compared with eternity. If we need any further incentive to avoid sins we might think as unimportant, it would be wise to remember what Jesus told us ” Truly, I say to you, you will never get out till you have paid the last penny.” (Matthew 5:26). That “last penny” may be a long, long time coming.
Q. Is it important for Catholics to read the Bible since we hear Scripture at each Mass?
A. Yes, it is very important and here is an analogy to illustrate why. Most people recognize the Scripture phrase “Man shall not live by bread alone”, but what follows in that sentence is very important.
The full verse (Matthew 4:4) reads “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’”
The “word that proceeds from the mouth of God” is found in the Bible – the inspired word of God.
Think of it this way. Just like a person consumes food for bodily nourishment, the Christian person needs to “consume” Scripture for spiritual nourishment.
Simply watching someone else eat does not nourish a person, nor does simply listening to someone else read Scripture provide spiritual nourishment. You need to dig into the Bible and “consume” the word of God to get the full spiritual effect.
It is mostly true though; that until the twentieth Century it was only Protestants who actively embraced Scripture study. That changed after 1943 when Pope Pius XII issued the encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu. This not only allowed Catholics to study Scripture, it encouraged them to do so. And with Catholics now studying Scripture and teaching other Catholics about what they are studying, familiarity with Scripture is growing, which is a wonderful thing for our faith and knowledge of God.
St. Jerome had it correct when he said “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” We encourage you to visit our Bible Basics website page and learn more about the Bible. We also encourage you to contact our office and sign up for the next Bible study class.
The more you learn from Scripture, the more you will grow to understand and love Jesus and find out what it means to become an Intentional Disciple of our Lord.
Q. Many Catholics seemingly don’t believe they need to attend Mass on Sunday. Are they wrong?
A. Yes, they are very wrong. As Catholics we must attend Mass on all Sundays (or Saturday evening) and Holy Days. The following article appeared on the online website www.aquinasandmore.com and provides an excellent response to this question.
Do you understand the Sunday Mass obligation? Do you know a Catholic who doesn’t like to go to Mass? Do you understand why it is a Mortal sin to miss Sunday Mass without grave reason? In our modern society, faithfully attending Mass seems to have become an act many Catholics view as optional. The teaching of the Church has never changed. To get directly to the point, it is not optional. Faithful Catholics are obligated to attend Mass each and every Sunday.
But we should not view the word ‘obligation’ as a bad thing. Going to Mass is not a punishment, it’s not a chore to get out of the way so you can go to the movies or out to brunch. The Mass is celebrated at Christ’s instruction, “Do this in memory of Me.” If we all take a moment to understand why participating in Mass is so important, why skipping Mass is a mortal sin, maybe ‘obligation’ will no longer seem like such an imposing word. Understanding why the Mass is so important is the first step to loving the Mass. And when you come to love the Mass, going to church on Sunday no longer feels like an “I have to,” but instead becomes an “I need, I want to.”
The Precepts of the Church
Before going further, it is important to note what the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us about Catholic Mass attendance.
The first precept (“You shall attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation and rest from servile labor”) requires the faithful to sanctify the day commemorating the Resurrection of the Lord as well as the principal liturgical feasts honoring the Mysteries of the Lord, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the saints; in the first place, by participating in the Eucharistic celebration, in which the Christian community is gathered, and by resting from those works and activities which could impede such a sanctification of these days.
The second precept (“You shall confess your sins at least once a year”) ensures preparation for the Eucharist by the reception of the sacrament of reconciliation, which continues Baptism’s work of conversion and forgiveness.
The third precept (“You shall receive the sacrament of the Eucharist at least during the Easter season”) guarantees as a minimum the reception of the Lord’s Body and Blood in connection with the Paschal feasts, the origin and center of the Christian liturgy. (CCC 2042)
The precept of the Church specifies the law of the Lord more precisely: “On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass.” “The precept of participating in the Mass is satisfied by assistance at a Mass which is celebrated anywhere in a Catholic rite either on the holy day or on the evening of the preceding day.”
The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice. For this reason the faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation, unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants) or dispensed by their own pastor. Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin. (CCC. 2180 and 2181)
The Code of Canon Law, the legal code of Christ’s Church, states:
On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are obliged to assist at Mass. They are also to abstain from such work or business that would inhibit the worship to be given to God, the joy proper to the Lord’s Day, or the due relaxation of mind and body.
The obligation of assisting at Mass is satisfied wherever Mass is celebrated in a Catholic rite either on a holy day itself or on the evening of the previous day. (Can 1247, 1248)
Both the code of Canon Law and the Catechism clearly state the obligation. There was some general teaching prior to Vatican II that one had to be present for the offertory through reception of Holy Communion to fulfill the obligation. However this is not a part of the canon and the faithful are to participate in the complete Mass in order to fulfill the Sunday obligation.
Some consider the formal language of the Catechism and Canon Law to be somewhat inaccessible, or others may read the Catechism and rebuke what is said simply because they think there are “too many rules.” Of course, rules are in place for a reason – even when it comes to driving, where the seemingly mundane rule of staying inside the painted lines has an enormous effect. So we can easily acknowledge that the rules about something so much more important – our faith – were not thrown together randomly, but have great meaning. Beyond the precept itself, we can also look at why it is so critical, and better understand the importance of participating in Mass every Sunday.
The Third Commandment: Remember to Keep Holy the Lord’s Day
When asked why Catholics go to Mass on Sunday, the third commandment is quite often given as an answer. This commandment is definitely not where the reason we are obligated to participate in Mass ends, but it is a good place to start. In the earliest days of Christianity, Sunday replaced the Sabbath as the Lord’s Day because it was on Sunday that Jesus rose from the dead, Sunday on which He appeared to two of His disciples and broke bread with them:
“When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight. They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?” And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven gathered together and those who were with them, who said, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread. (Lk 24:30-35)
It was from that first day onwards that the faithful began to celebrate the memorial of Christ’s sacrifice and rising, and still today, it is in the breaking of the bread that we recognize Jesus. The Second Vatican Council also recognizes that Sunday as the foremost day to celebrate the Eucharist was handed down from the day of the resurrection:
“Apostolic tradition of the Church is, from the very day of the resurrection of Christ, to celebrate the Pasch every eight days, on the day which is called the day of the Lord” (“Sacrosanctum Concilium”, 106)
The First Commandment: You Shall Not Have Strange Gods Before Me
The third commandment is often mentioned as explanation for the importance of attending Mass on Sunday, but the first commandment is just as crucial. In fact if the first commandment is followed, abiding to the third will come naturally.
There are those who choose to willfully skip Mass, or those who ‘drag’ themselves to Mass but do not want to be there. The question is, “why?” Why don’t they want to be there, sharing in Christ’s passion, sharing in His resurrection? Quite often, it is because they feel they have something better or more interesting to do. Watch a sports game, go shopping, paint the shed, read a book, watch a movie, take a nap, get a head start on work related tasks for the week. The focus is put on these things, and not on God.
It’s not worshiping a golden statue, but the result is the same. When these things take precedence over Christ, the false gods of the material world are being put before Our Lord. It is not to say that ambition in career, shopping, entertainment, and keeping up the house are evil in themselves. The problem is when one allows them to become more important than God, when one willfully chooses these in place of God, including in place of participation in the Mass, the core of our faith. If you find yourself asking if you really have to go to Mass, change the question and ask yourself why you aren’t excited to go to Mass? In the early days of the church – and in some countries still – faithful people could be jailed or even killed for celebrating Mass. So why do we allow worldly entertainments to compete with our love for God and the Eucharist?
The Words of the Saints
The perfect answer to the “do what you feel like doing” mentality of modern society is to seek inspiration in the words of the saints, who understood the importance of holy Mass. For the most part, they too lived in societies where materialism was a distraction to those around them. Yet these saints had a love for God that helped them to overcome temptations, and even their own past actions, to be more fully devoted to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The writings of the saints would be a good place to begin to find instructional and inspirational words of those holy people who lived before us.
The Intention of the Faithful
It is important to note that one’s will is also a factor here. The church acknowledges a difference between missing Mass for a grave reason or for something over which you had no control, and the act of willfully choosing not to go to Mass. The former is not a mortal sin, the latter is. In the Apostolic letter Dies Domini, Pope John Paul II instructed those who are prevented from participating in the Mass in the following way:
Finally, the faithful who, because of sickness, disability or some other serious cause, are prevented from taking part, should as best they can unite themselves with the celebration of Sunday Mass from afar, preferably by means of the readings and prayers for that day from the Missal, as well as through their desire for the Eucharist. (Dies Domini, Pope John Paul II)
St. Bonaventure Catholic Church looks forward to you attending our Masses. Click here for Mass Times.
Q. Why do we need to be baptized?
A. BAPTISM! Why is this sacrament so misunderstood by so many people? It is the entry rite into the Church, and it replaces the Jewish entry rite of circumcision (Colossians 2:11-12). The baptism that we undergo today is much different than the original baptism of John the Baptist, which was only a baptism of repentance. The Baptism of Jesus Christ not only forgives all sin, but gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit as well. In John the Baptist’s baptism, the penitents actually confessed their sins to their baptizer, which is another proof text for the Catholic sacrament of confession. The bible never says that baptism is only “symbolic”, which some protestants today believe it is. The Holy Spirit IS NOT SYMBOLIC, but real!
A foreshadowing of of NT baptism was given to us in the OT when Naaman the Syrian washed 7 times in the Jordan to cleanse his BODY of the blight of leprosy (2 Kings 5). This directly points to the more perfect new covenant, where water cleanses our SOUL of the blight of sin.
In the Bible, water and the spirit together always means a new creation:
Genesis 1:1, where the spirit of God moved over the water, creating the new earth;
Genesis 8:8-9, The dove released by Noah over the flood waters from the Ark, before the new beginning of mankind;
Exodus 13:21-22, The pillar of fire (the spirit of God) over the Red Sea protecting the Israelites on the way to their new home;
Matthew 3:16, The baptism of Jesus, where the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, descended from heaven onto Jesus. This sacrament therefore makes us reborn in Christ, with the Holy Spirit coming down into us, living in our body, his temple (1 Corinthians 3:16).
Here is what the Bible says about the necessity of Baptism:
1 Peter 3:20-21: who formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ”
John 3:5: Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
John 3:22: After this Jesus and his disciples went into the land of Judea; there he remained with them and baptized.
(**NOTE- As if to confirm that He was talking about Baptism in John 3:5, Jesus goes out and baptizes people 17 verses later in John chapter 3. This is the only place in the Bible where Jesus baptizes).
Mark 1:4-11: John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And there went out to him all the country of Judea, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, and had a leather girdle around his waist, and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
Mark 1:9-11: In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens opened and the Spirit descending upon him like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased.”
Acts 2:38: And Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Acts 19:2-6: And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have never even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them; and they spoke with tongues and prophesied.
(**NOTE – Here we see the difference between the initial baptism of John the Baptist, a kind of early form of confession, and the later Baptism of Jesus, where the Holy Spirit actually comes into you and makes your body His temple.)
An important thing to remember concerning Baptism, is that Jesus Himself was Baptized to not only sanctify the waters of Baptism for us all (He was sinless, and had no need of the sacrament to remove any of His sins, therefore), but to take on our sins, through space and time, unto himself. We see this in scripture in 2 Corinthians 5:21:
“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
This is why the devil tempted Him right after Baptism, because he was now carrying the sins of the world upon Himself. In Romans 6: 3-6 below, the bible says that we have been baptized into HIS DEATH, which means that the sacrament of Baptism unites us to Jesus through His crucifixion, forever:
“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin.”
And to reiterate the Baptism-Crucifixion link, we have the following verses as well;
Mark 10:38-39: But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized;
(**NOTE – Here Jesus is talking about his crucifixion).
Galatians 2:20: I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
(**NOTE – Paul was never physically crucified; as a Roman citizen, he was beheaded).
Galatians 5:24: And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the the flesh with its passions and desires.
So, most people don’t realize that when they are baptized they are also being crucified with Jesus, but the good news is that being crucified with Jesus means that we also get to rise from the dead into heaven with Him, to eternal life! This being crucified with Jesus through Baptism goes a long way in helping to explain why so many bad things happen to good Christians – It’s part of the crucifixion process!
So now that you know the necessity of Baptism, what are you waiting for? Get Baptized today and have the Holy Spirit come live in you, and make you a new creation!
This information reprinted from the Catholic Bible 101 website
Q. Why do Catholics baptize infants instead of waiting till they can make this decision themselves?
A. Fundamentalists often criticize the Catholic Church’s practice of baptizing infants. According to them, baptism is for adults and older children, because it is to be administered only after one has undergone a “born again” experience—that is, after one has “accepted Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and Savior.” At the instant of acceptance, when he is “born again,” the adult becomes a Christian, and his salvation is assured forever. Baptism follows, though it has no actual salvific value. In fact, one who dies before being baptized, but after “being saved,” goes to heaven anyway.
As Fundamentalists see it, baptism is not a sacrament (in the true sense of the word), but an ordinance. It does not in any way convey the grace it symbolizes; rather, it is merely a public manifestation of the person’s conversion. Since only an adult or older child can be converted, baptism is inappropriate for infants or for children who have not yet reached the age of reason (generally considered to be age seven). Most Fundamentalists say that during the years before they reach the age of reason infants and young children are automatically saved. Only once a person reaches the age of reason does he need to “accept Jesus” in order to reach heaven.
Since the New Testament era, the Catholic Church has always understood baptism differently, teaching that it is a sacrament which accomplishes several things, the first of which is the remission of sin, both original sin and actual sin—only original sin in the case of infants and young children, since they are incapable of actual sin; and both original and actual sin in the case of older persons.
Peter explained what happens at baptism when he said, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). But he did not restrict this teaching to adults. He added, “For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him” (2:39). We also read: “Rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name” (Acts 22:16). These commands are universal, not restricted to adults. Further, these commands make clear the necessary connection between baptism and salvation, a
connection explicitly stated in 1 Peter 3:21: “Baptism . . . now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
Christ Calls All to Baptism
Although Fundamentalists are the most recent critics of infant baptism, opposition to infant baptism is not a new phenomenon. In the Middle Ages, some groups developed that rejected infant baptism, e.g., the Waldenses and Catharists. Later, the Anabaptists (“re-baptizers”) echoed them, claiming that infants are incapable of being baptized validly. But the historic Christian Church has always held that Christ’s law applies to infants as well as adults, for Jesus said that no one can enter heaven unless he has been born again of water and the Holy Spirit (John 3:5). His words can be taken to apply to anyone capable of belonging to his kingdom. He asserted such even for children: “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 19:14).
More detail is given in Luke’s account of this event, which reads: “Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them; and when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying, ‘Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God’” (Luke 18:15–16).
Now Fundamentalists say this event does not apply to young children or infants since it implies the children to which Christ was referring were able to approach him on their own. (Older translations have, “Suffer the little children to come unto me,” which seems to suggest they could do so under their own power.) Fundamentalists conclude the passage refers only to children old enough to walk, and, presumably, capable of sinning. But the text in Luke 18:15 says, “Now they were bringing even infants to him” (Greek, Prosepheron de auto kai ta brepha). The Greek word brepha means “infants”—children who are quite unable to approach Christ on their own and who could not possibly make a conscious decision to “accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior.” And that is precisely the problem. Fundamentalists refuse to permit the baptism of infants and young children, because they are not yet capable of making such a conscious act. But notice what Jesus said: “to such as these [referring to the infants and children who had been brought to him by their mothers] belongs the kingdom of heaven.” The Lord did not require them to make a conscious decision. He says that they are precisely the kind of people who can come to him and receive the kingdom. So on what basis, Fundamentalists should be asked, can infants and young children be excluded from the sacrament of baptism? If Jesus said “let them come unto me,” who are we to say “no,” and withhold baptism from them?
In Place of Circumcision
Furthermore, Paul notes that baptism has replaced circumcision (Col. 2:11–12). In that passage, he refers to baptism as “the circumcision of Christ” and “the circumcision made without hands.” Of course, usually only infants were circumcised under the Old Law; circumcision of adults was rare, since there were few converts to Judaism. If Paul meant to exclude infants, he would not have chosen circumcision as a parallel for baptism.
This comparison between who could receive baptism and circumcision is an appropriate one. In the Old Testament, if a man wanted to become a Jew, he had to believe in the God of Israel and be circumcised. In the New Testament, if one wants to become a Christian, one must believe in God and Jesus and be baptized. In the Old Testament, those born into Jewish households could be circumcised in anticipation of the Jewish faith in which they would be raised. Thus in the New Testament, those born in Christian households can be baptized in anticipation of the Christian faith in which they will be raised. The pattern is the same: If one is an adult, one must have faith before receiving the rite of membership; if one is a child too young to have faith, one may be given the rite of membership in the knowledge that one will be raised in the faith. This is the basis of Paul’s reference to baptism as “the circumcision of Christ”—that is, the Christian equivalent of circumcision.
Were Only Adults Baptized?
Fundamentalists are reluctant to admit that the Bible nowhere says baptism is to be restricted to adults, but when pressed, they will. They just conclude that is what it should be taken as meaning, even if the text does not explicitly support such a view. Naturally enough, the people whose baptisms we read about in Scripture (and few are individually identified) are adults, because they were converted as adults. This makes sense, because Christianity was just beginning—there were no “cradle Christians,” people brought up from childhood in Christian homes.
Even in the books of the New Testament that were written later in the first century, during the time when children were raised in the first Christian homes, we never—not even once—find an example of a child raised in a Christian home who is baptized only upon making a “decision for Christ.” Rather, it is always assumed that the children of Christian homes are already Christians, that they have already been “baptized into Christ” (Rom. 6:3). If infant baptism were not the rule, then we should have references to the children of Christian parents joining the Church only after they had come to the age of reason, and there are no such records in the Bible.
Specific Biblical References?
But, one might ask, does the Bible ever say that infants or young children can be baptized? The indications are clear. In the New Testament we read that Lydia was converted by Paul’s preaching and that “She was baptized, with her household” (Acts 16:15). The Philippian jailer whom Paul and Silas had converted to the faith was baptized that night along with his household. We are told that “the same hour of the night . . . he was baptized, with all his family” (Acts 16:33). And in his greetings to the Corinthians, Paul recalled that, “I did baptize also the household of Stephanas” (1 Cor. 1:16).
In all these cases, whole households or families were baptized. This means more than just the spouse; the children too were included. If the text of Acts referred simply to the Philippian jailer and his wife, then we would read that “he and his wife were baptized,” but we do not. Thus his children must have been baptized as well. The same applies to the other cases of household baptism in Scripture.
Granted, we do not know the exact age of the children; they may have been past the age of reason, rather than infants. Then again, they could have been babes in arms. More probably, there were both younger and older children. Certainly there were children younger than the age of reason in some of the households that were baptized, especially if one considers that society at this time had no reliable form of birth control. Furthermore, given the New Testament pattern of household baptism, if there were to be exceptions to this rule (such as infants), they would be explicit.
Catholics From the First
The present Catholic attitude accords perfectly with early Christian practices. Origen, for instance, wrote in the third century that “according to the usage of the Church, baptism is given even to infants” (Holilies on Leviticus, 8:3:11 [A.D. 244]). The Council of Carthage, in 253, condemned the opinion that baptism should be withheld from infants until the eighth day after birth. Later, Augustine taught, “The custom of Mother Church in baptizing infants is certainly not to be scorned . . . nor is it to be believed that its tradition is anything except apostolic” (Literal Interpretation of Genesis 10:23:39 [A.D. 408]).
No Cry of “Invention!”
None of the Fathers or councils of the Church was claiming that the practice was contrary to Scripture or tradition. They agreed that the practice of baptizing infants was the customary and appropriate practice since the days of the early Church; the only uncertainty seemed to be when—exactly—an infant should be baptized. Further evidence that infant baptism was the accepted practice in the early Church is the fact that if infant baptism had been opposed to the religious practices of the first believers, why do we have no record of early Christian writers condemning it?
But Fundamentalists try to ignore the historical writings from the early Church which clearly indicate the legitimacy of infant baptism. They attempt to sidestep appeals to history by saying baptism requires faith and, since children are incapable of having faith, they cannot be baptized. It is true that Christ prescribed instruction and actual faith for adult converts (Matt. 28:19–20), but his general law on the necessity of baptism (John 3:5) puts no restriction on the subjects of baptism. Although infants are included in the law he establishes, requirements of that law that are impossible to meet because of their age are not applicable to them. They cannot be expected to be instructed and have faith when they are incapable of receiving instruction or manifesting faith. The same was true of circumcision; faith in the Lord was necessary for an adult convert to receive it, but it was not necessary for the children of believers.
Furthermore, the Bible never says, “Faith in Christ is necessary for salvation except for infants”; it simply says, “Faith in Christ is necessary for salvation.” Yet Fundamentalists must admit there is an exception for infants unless they wish to condemn instantaneously all infants to hell. Therefore, the Fundamentalist himself makes an exception for infants regarding the necessity of faith for salvation. He can thus scarcely criticize the Catholic for making the exact same exception for baptism, especially if, as Catholics believe, baptism is an instrument of salvation.
It becomes apparent, then, that the Fundamentalist position on infant baptism is not really a consequence of the Bible’s strictures, but of the demands of Fundamentalism’s idea of salvation. In reality, the Bible indicates that infants are to be baptized, that they too are meant to inherit the kingdom of heaven. Further, the witness of the earliest Christian practices and writings must once and for all silence those who criticize the Catholic Church’s teaching on infant baptism. The Catholic Church is merely continuing the tradition established by the first Christians, who heeded the words of Christ: “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:16).
NIHIL OBSTAT: I have concluded that the materials
presented in this work are free of doctrinal or moral errors.
Bernadeane Carr, STL, Censor Librorum, August 10, 2004
IMPRIMATUR: In accord with 1983 CIC 827
permission to publish this work is hereby granted.
+Robert H. Brom, Bishop of San Diego, August 10, 2004
This information reprinted from the Catholic Answers website.
Q. The Catholic Church claims to be the guardian of the Bible, but it demonstrated its hostility towards God’s Word when it added unscriptural books to the Old Testament, namely the Apocrypha. Why is that?
A. A few things need to be said here. First of all, the seven books in question–Tobit, Judith, 1 and 2 Maccabees, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, and Baruch–are properly called the deuterocanonical books.
Second, the label “unscriptural” was first applied by the Protestant Reformers of the 16th century. The truth is, portions of these books contradict elements of Protestant doctrine (as in the case of 2 Maccabees 12, which clearly supports prayers for the dead and a belief in purgatory), and the “reformers” therefore needed some excuse to eliminate them from the canon. However, these books are “unscriptural” only if misinterpreted. It should also be noted that the first-century Christians–including Jesus and the apostles–effectively considered these seven books canonical. They quoted from the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures that contained these seven books. More importantly, the deuterocanonicals are clearly alluded to in the New Testament.
Third, the canon of the entire Bible was essentially settled around the turn of the fourth century. Up until this time, there was disagreement over the canon, and some ten different canonical lists existed, none of which corresponded exactly to what the Bible now contains. Around this time there were no less than five instances when the canon was formally identified: the Synod of Rome (382), the Council of Hippo (393), the Council of Carthage (397), a letter from Pope Innocent I to Exsuperius, Bishop of Toulouse (405), and the Second Council of Carthage (419). In every instance, the canon was identical to what Catholic Bibles contain today. In other words, from the end of the fourth century on, in practice Christians accepted the Catholic Church’s decision in this matter.
By the time of the Reformation, Christians had been using the same 73 books in their Bibles (46 in the Old Testament, 27 in the New Testament)–and thus considering them inspired–for more than 1100 years. This practice changed with Martin Luther, who dropped the deuterocanonical books on nothing more than his own say-so. Protestantism as a whole has followed his lead in this regard.
One of the two “pillars” of the Protestant Reformation (sola scriptura or “the Bible alone”) in part states that nothing can be added to or taken away from God’s Word. History shows therefore that Protestants are guilty of violating their own doctrine.
The above response was reprinted from the Catholic Answers website.
For more information on the Bible visit our Bible Basics webpage.